March 23, 2011

Responsive Architecture

I had the good fortune to hear Tristan Sterk talk the other night in Champaign. He’s teaching now at the Art Institute of Chicago, and came down at the invitation of Therese Tierney, an assistant professor in the School of Architecture at the U of I. Tristan is principal of the Office of Robotic Architectural Media and the Bureau for Responsive Architecture (ORAMBRA). His background in thermal performance provides a solid foundation, as it were, for his architectural experiments, kind of like a technology start-up company, he said, with the goal to produce scalable systems. He described his approach as “anti-architecture,” or what architecture would look like if we didn’t let form drive the project. Other phrases he used: open, egalitarian, new vernacular, built from available technologies, bottom-up. He encouraged us to give up authorship. I found myself thinking of the wonderful work of Michael Rakowitz, whose PARAsite project collaborated with homeless individuals to create inflatable structures with the vented air in cities.

Tristan has prototyped a Prairie House, an “iPod to live in” that adapts and changes to human and environmental conditions. He aims to integrate environmental controls with the spatial system, changing the nature of space itself. This house has a tensegrity system (Tristan showed cool videos of models in motion) with a skin that changes in response to various conditions. Other variables that the Prairie House takes into account: softness, rigidity, color, permeability, volume, shape, insulation levels. Videos are on Tristan’s website featuring him in action on a recent Intelligent Infrastructure panel.

Yona Friedman informs some of Tristan’s thinking, and he read an excerpt from L’Architecture mobile (I think.) This from a chapter he (Tristan) has written for a book due out soon called Persistent Modelling, edited by Phil Ayres (Routledge, 2012.) The key concept that excited me was a series of systems that would be actively given over to occupants, who could manipulate and change these systems to meet their needs. This architecture would be built from a few standard pieces, but used in many ways, with performance driving form. David Hays asked about the threshold cost of these structures…at what point does the expense outweigh the benefits?