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Disappearing Act: Wentworth’s Architectural Camouflage Expert

September 27, 2017

Antonio Furgiuele is no magician, but he can make things disappear. 

The associate professor in the Department of Architecture teaches architectural camouflage, a field that boomed during World War II but is essentially ageless, predicated on expanding upon nature’s own visual manipulations.

Although most people think immediately about war, armories, and bunkers when he tells them what he does, Furgiuele doesn’t work for the military. Rather, his focus is on technology—on things like disguising or hiding large industrial buildings such as data centers, and creating privacy and security in a culture obsessed with pushing everything into the public eye.

For example, he studies the facilities belonging to the social media and search-engine giants to see how buildings filled with machines and tech equipment are made to look like ordinary office complexes (fake windows are one common feature).

To enlighten his students on decoy strategies and optical illusions, Furgiuele first works with them on drawing, and instructs them on the elements of visibility—on the ways that lines and forms, shadows, color, and textures make things stand out. Why? Because they need to understand what makes things recognizable before they can begin to disguise or hide them.

Furgiuele said the camo field has changed a lot since the 1940s, when the United States trained 1,500 architects to hide 131 of the country’s most valuable and vulnerable war facilities.

Today’s architects are focused on smart technology and privacy for buildings and landscapes. Homes are being designed to use the latest technology and prevent security breaches, right down to the location of walls and materials used to build them.

“There is so much less privacy now,” said Furgiuele, “and as architects we need to know how to create and build it.”

A collection of tiny houses in his office reveals a little bit about how that’s done—how things are made to fade into the background or otherwise become invisible to the naked eye. For example, one of the houses is patterned with dazzle camouflage made of complex geometric shapes. Others are two toned. The houses were originally displayed in Furgiuele’s exhibition, “Invisibility in the Information Age” at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2015.

“The goal is to manipulate and deceive,” he said. “When you can make things disappear, that’s the real trick.”

Furgiuele’s work earned him a 2017 MacDowell Fellowship, which allowed him to spend two weeks in the woods this past summer in a New Hampshire cabin, sharing research and ideas with other academics and artists from around the world.

Raised in Rochester, N.Y., the son of Italian immigrants, Furgiuele joined Wentworth’s faculty last year after teaching at the University of Wisconsin, Pratt Institute, Columbia University, and the New School. He earned a master’s degree in history, theory and criticism of architecture from MIT and a bachelor’s in architecture from Syracuse University.

One of his students, Eric Petro, said Furgiuele’s course titled “Architecture in the Information Age” challenged him to think more broadly than he’d anticipated.

“The biggest surprise for me was how strongly linked architecture and urban design are with the rapid technological advancements of the last couple decades,” said Petro, who is in his fourth year at Wentworth, majoring in Architecture. “Even the simple fact that each of us now carries a smartphone in our pocket has had a dramatic effect on how we interact with our environment.”

--Dennis Nealon

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