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June 2010

Scene4 Magazine - TIMESHIP: The Architecture of Immortality - Interview with Stephen Valentine | Griselda Steiner -

The Architecture Of Immortality by Stephen Valentine
Published by The Images Publishing Group, Ltd., 2009

The Book and the Building
Interview with Architect Stephen Valentine

by Griselda Steiner

"CYRONIC SUSPENSION – The practice of keeping legally dead cyropreserved human body or brain at extremely low temperature in the hope of eventual reanimation with the help of future medical technologies."  From TIMESHIP, Glossary

TIMESHIP is a tabletop gem that elegantly presents the blueprint, design and philosophy of a building dedicated to life extension research and cryonics, including the revolutionary biobanking of human organs for transplantation, a breakthrough made possible by recent research. TIMESHIP will eventually cryopreserve people. With preface essays by eminent scientists, the book becomes a touchstone for understanding cutting edge science as well as provoking ethical debate. Based on symbolic, practical and aesthetic criteria, TIMESHIP was the joint brainchild of Stephen Valentine and his clients Saul Kent and Bill Faloon of Life Extension Foundation. At this time, the site has been acquired and the first phases of the project is set to begin.

Internationally acclaimed architect Stephen Valentine, who has worked on significant assignments including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC under James Ingo Freed in the office of I.M. Pei & Partners, launched the book last Fall at signings at the Pink Elephant in the Hamptons and Rizzoli's, NYC New York. The project was also mounted as a major exhibition at the Municipal Arts Society, NYC, in 2005. I welcomed the opportunity to interview Stephen and share ideas on his visionary endeavor.


The Science
"To be or not to be" – Just add "Forever"

"The three leading technologies of our time are electronics, nanotechnology and biotechnology. TIMESHIP is at the heart of biotechnology. Its mission is research into life extension and preservation of biological material including DNA from extinct and near extinct species, organs for transplantation, and patients traveling to the future…" From TIMESHIP

The science of cryonics in preserving organic material has advanced since the 1960s with the development of vitrification, a process whereby freezing occurs without forming damaging ice crystals. Although less than 200 patients have already been preserved and about 2,000 have made arrangements, breakthrough techniques of bringing them back to healthy life have not yet been accomplished. How can this elite medicine translate to benefit the man on the street?

Some may question what they see as the privilege of a few to live hundreds of years while others starve. The book points out that technological advances will usher in a new era that will have problems, but scarcity won't be one of them. Many of those already cyropreserved were of modest means and paid through life insurance for only a few dollars a week when they were young and healthy.

When can people now cyropreserved be revived?

Those now in storage will not be reanimated until it is medically possible. Skeptics doubt whether that will ever happen.  . Those stored were very knowledgeable about the current limits of cryonics, but felt that even a one-in-a-million chance was better than the odds with cremation.

What is the breakthrough that caused TIMESHIP to go forward at this time?

The problem with freezing biological material has been the damage to tissue caused by ice crystals. Those behind TIMESHIP have developed processes that prevent the formation of ice crystals. Interestingly, this also has implications for organ transplantation. Right now, if you need a transplant, an organ has to be obtained from a donor when you need it. Besides advancing cryonics, this new technology will enable the banking of frozen organs and save thousands of lives.


The Facility
Fail-Safe Criteria

"TIMESHIP will be a 'Fort Knox' for the storage of biological materials, protecting its precious cargo through hundred of years of 'travel
into the future.'" From TIMESHIP

Considerations for creating a secure building at a site safe from natural disasters that houses an energy independent, durable storage facility for suspended life forms requiring temperature control opened up vistas of complex challenges Valentine had to overcome. Referring to structures built to endure, such as medieval castles, the book details many mechanical, engineering and technological achievements. Among the special criteria that had to be met what was the most difficult?

The demands for TIMESHIP required collaboration with leading engineers. The most challenging was to keep storage temperatures within two degrees for up to hundreds of years. We've all experienced heating, air conditioning and plumbing breakdowns occurring frequently in our homes. Our response was to design cooling systems with great redundancy and minimal moving parts for a fail-safe operation.


The Design
Spiritual, Natural and Mathematical Synthesis

"Sacred geometry refers to forms, patterns, intervals and relationships that are found in many cultures and exist in our bodies, in our perception, in living creatures… and structures of the universe." From TIMESHIP

In approaching its noble mission, TIMESHIP seeks to emulate the enduring character of such ancient monuments as the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge. The building's mysterious appearance that results from its use of sacred geometry - the squared circle, Golden Ratio, Fibonacci series and the pi basis of natural proportion, as well as mimicking the harmonic structures of floral and celestial formations. The architecture grew out of Valentine's intellect, years of scholarship and was influenced by his study at Pratt Institute with renowned architect, Professor Mimi Lobell. What was your primary goal in creating the architectural design?

As stated in the book, architecture must not only house the functions intended (for us - research on life extension, cancer prevention, banking of frozen organs and preserving DNA of endangered species and housing patients traveling to the future), but also promote an understanding of the impact these functions will have on our lives. In the case of TIMESHIP, this meant contemplating the significance of eliminating death as we know it.


The Ethics
Playing Roulette with the Future

"We have until now accepted death as inevitable because of millennia of experience, but scientific advances suggest that aging and even death are genetically programmed and might be stopped." From TIMESHIP

From ancient myth and fairy tale to sci-fi pop culture, man's desire for immortality has always been considered an impossible dream. Religions refer to the "eternal spirit," resurrection and reincarnation. Now that we can foresee practical immortality as a possible reality, we must face our inherent assumptions and ask if it is ethical to go beyond natural boundaries to seek a dream of agelessness and living after death. Recent biomedical advances have accomplished organ transplant, genetic engineering, egg and sperm banks, in vitro fertilization and animal cloning. In his essay in your book, Michael D. West Ph.D., a pioneer of stem cell research, says that human germ cells are immortal. We have witnessed the power of the atom bomb as a prime example of the destructive use of scientific knowledge. What is the worst-case scenario for the future of cryonics?

Technological revolutions seem to creep up on us at first largely unnoticed. Stories of the Wright brothers' first flights were dismissed, the creation of the transistor remained largely unnoticed, and Watson and Crick's 1953 discovery of the structure of DNA gained wide attention only after the 1968 publication of Watson's book, The Double Helix, revealing the human foibles of scientists. Significantly, even when noticed, no one can predict how a discovery will affect us. We were initially told that home computers would enable us to track inventories of canned goods in our pantries. Instead they democratized access to information and linked people around the globe. In the book I explain that technological progress has been increasing at an exponential rate called "the Singularity," suggesting change will come more rapidly than we anticipate. The worst-case scenario would be the result of technological failure.

Scientists don't have humanist priorities. It is up artists and thinkers to grapple with larger meanings. Movie stars, from Woody Allen in "Sleeper" to Tom Cruise in "Vanilla Sky" were frozen and revived. So what will we do with the extreme life extension promised by TIMESHIP? I leave that up to your imagination and to time.

TIMESHIP's design reminds me of a Buddhist Sand Mandala, created in a ritual wherein Tibetan monks painstaking draw by blowing colored sand on a board, and then spill the artwork into the ocean as a metaphor for the impermanence of life. Yet this building is meant to survive for millennia. As TIMESHIP prepares to embark on her long journey into the future, the new frontiers she navigates are unforeseen, but perhaps some of her daring passengers will live again to tell her tale.

For more information visit TIMESHIP's website:

TIMESHIP won the Merit Award for overall design in the Special Trade category for 2009 from the BOOKBINDERS' GUILD OF NEW YORK. 


©2010 Griselda Steiner
©2010 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Griselda Steiner has written book reviews, drama and poetry published in Scene4. Her new book on Kindle, Amazon.Com's Wireless Book Reading Service, is My Take ... Your Take (Cultural Reflections).
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives


Scene4 Magazine - Arts and Media

June 2010

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