"Still far from an autonomous design bot, relinquished of the architect's control, the project showcases the potential of algorithmic design. Hannah’s work recognizes the importance of these methods, but highlights that we are at a juncture where we need a robust analytical response to ensure we design and build our future for everyone."Digital Turn On view through September 14 The Built Environment Trust's RCA Student Prize for Innovation On view through August 29 The Building Centre Store Street London, U.K.
This year’s meeting of the Association for Computer-Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA) was hosted at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. It was the 36th meeting of ACADIA, and was regarded to be an incredibly successful showing. The theme of the conference, Posthuman Frontiers: Data, Designers, and Cognitive Machines, was paired with the Posthuman Frontiers exhibition, featuring jury-selected projects submitted to the conference, as well as the advanced work of Taubman College faculty. The events of the conference were held at multiple venues around Ann Arbor, and were preceded by several workshops that made use of Taubman College’s digital fabrication and instruction facilities.
For those of us on the outside looking in (in our lesser moments, perhaps), the ACADIA community might easily be misconstrued as a group of architects obsessed with robots, or possessing an interest in complicated shapes made in Grasshopper for their own sake. However, the three days this author spent among their ranks at this year’s conference were some of the most inspiring in recent memory. Yes, there were moments of geometric fetishism, and yes, there were a considerable number of time-lapse videos of robot arms in progress. But when taken in aggregate, these projects, papers, and talks reframed and made vibrant the essential ingredients of what we work on as architects: the arrangement of solid and void, the cultural effects of form, and the possibilities of what we might craft in the built environment.
It must be said that the range of work presented was dramatic. Even within the more immediately applicable papers and projects were sober arguments for parametric design in space planning, a smart device for lowering cooling costs in office spaces, newly designed plugins to optimize the unfolding of 3-D meshes, and progress-in-training robots to lay tile in order to relieve the strain on human bodies.Caress of the Gaze from Pier 9 on Vimeo.
Reaching into more radical territory, we saw prototyped near-body architectures operating on the politics of the posthuman in Behnaz Farahi’s “Caress of the Gaze,” an actuated garment which tracks—and responds to—the eye movement of those regarding the wearer. We saw installations that build intimacy and a sense of cooperative play between humans and digital entities. There was work which adopted uncommon material alliances of “programmable matter,” such as in Jane Scott’s intertwining of hydrophobic fibers that writhe and retract when exposed to water vapor (one of several fabric-oriented works), and too many others of note to mention them all.
But some of the most memorable moments from this conference were the keynote addresses, as they punctuated the proceedings with disparate tones and positions that illuminated the diversity of this community. Theodore Spyropoulos led the charge on Thursday with a talk entitled All Is Behavior (a play on Hans Hollein’s claim that “All are architects. Everything is architecture.”) It quickly became clear that Spyropoulos sees the future of cities, and indeed, that of humanity, in a technologically positivist light. He envisions self-organizing and aggregating structures which allow for adaptivity in the face of changing climatic or social conditions, and seeks to bring us into more sympathetic forms of interaction with robotic and digital entities.
The evening of the same day found the participants exposed to other visionary work, in a dreamy—and at times titillating—conversation between Philip Beesley and Iris Van Herpen, whose ongoing collaborations are advancing both Van Herpen’s work at the forefront of couture, and Beesley’s at, perhaps, the architectural equivalent. Lucidly expressive, Beesley’s tone was one of wonderment—of proposed, barely imaginable relationships between humans and matter. In fact, Beesley’s role is most easily understood, and his work is most easily appreciated, when it is placed in the context of couture, the goal of which is to push the bounds of what is possible in clothing.
Mario Carpo’s discussion of the cultural implications of searchability was a thoughtful meditation and provocation that ultimately concluded the conference Saturday evening, but the real climax of ACADIA 2016 was a keynote lecture Friday evening by Elizabeth Diller, as she was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Despite a playful hesitance to engage with the foreboding finality of “Lifetime Achievement,” Diller generously outlined some of the more seminal works of Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), one of the most influential practices in the world over the past 25 years. Early in the talk, Diller emphasized her interest in the fields adjacent to architecture, a propensity for smaller scale works, and a persistent fascination with “the encounter.” By the end, however, she was in a mode of pure architectural shoptalk, sharing in-progress photos of the recently manufactured steel struts and enormous wheels that will comprise The Shed, currently in construction in New York’s Hudson Yards development. Diller concluded her remarks with some reflections upon the way culture has shifted since some of DS+R’s early work. In the present day, she claims:
“...the speed of obsolescence makes technology a liability. Dumber is better than smarter and the best thing to do for culture in the future is to secure real estate. It’s as basic as that.
Then: Systems theory, game theory, cybernetic control systems were tools to democratize culture.
Now: Digital technologies allow culture to be open source, dispersed, and on-demand. However, with democracy comes the ubiquitous condition of being monitored, so it’s a different time.…
Then: Kit of parts and kinetic systems produce flexibility.
Now: Flexibility is a paradox. The more flexibility is built in, the more predetermined, leaving nothing but empty space (this is related to ‘dumb is a virtue’).
Then: Disciplinary borders had to be broken.
Now: Despite academia’s parsing and classification, the richly indeterminate contours of interdisciplinarity, intradisciplinarity, multidisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, cross-disciplinarity—we actually have to push to make these things happen, because somehow, the real world divides everything up again. Because that’s where money comes from—different places. And it’s going to take a long time to change the system.
Then: Government support for culture was assumed.
Now: To avoid the vicissitudes of the economy, the cultural institutions must produce their own financial security.
Then: The architect was a generalist that gathers research from subcommittees.
Now: Professionalization turns the architect into a director/producer that relies on a rolling cadre of subconsultants who bring an ever-widening depth of expertise to ever-more adventurous problems. So, then and now, the architect gets to push the agency of the profession to invent a cultural and civic project on both scores.”
These sage thoughts carried the conference into its final day, which held perhaps the most poignant moment of the proceedings, as Chuck Eastman, one of the original founders of ACADIA in 1981, received the Society Award of Excellence. Hearing Eastman describe the early days of computational design, the work that went into tasks as simple as Boolean operations, put the tools we now take for granted in perspective. It is amazing how far computational design has advanced in just a few decades, and this community shows no sign of slowing. No doubt, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab will rise to the occasion and show us the next chapter a year from now, as they are slated to host ACADIA 2017.
When Zaha Hadid passed away this March, many questioned the future of her practice, Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA). As its leader, the Iraq-born British architect had played a starring role in the international design scene. Since her passing, ZHA has continued with Patrik Schumacher, the firm's only former partner, at its helm. Schumacher spoke with AN's Senior Editor Matt Shaw about what the future holds for ZHA, the impact of starchitecture, progressive urbanism, and more.
The Architect's Newspaper: How will ZHA continue? Do you feel like you have a good team behind you?
Patrik Schumacher: Oh absolutely we have a great team [and] many layers of people who have been with us for many, many years. A lot of them are former students of mine. There’s a...much-shared sensibility and set of values—let’s say the DNA of the firm—deeply embedded in everybody’s way of working. It's also not just about being ambitious about ZHA, but being ambitious about giving leadership to the discipline as a whole. This is something I’ve been doing through my writings and attempting to do. There’s also the effort to overcome some of the prejudice, which the firm has faced through some of its critics.
What do you make of ZHA's criticisms?
I think this is based on a lack of understanding of our motivations. I’m trying to address this and I want to be more open to engagement with critics [by] explaining what we’re really about. We don’t want to be stars. We don’t want to become rich quick. We’re not insensitive to social and political issues. We actually share a lot with those critical of our work, critics who sometimes seem to take the moral high ground. What we all share, and should be expected to share as a basis for conversation, is a commitment to societal development, progress, emancipation, freedom, prosperity, and attempt to make architecture relevant to [the] development of the city and society. These kinds of shared motivations should be a basis for a conversation, [one that] also respects that maybe we see clients differently. We at ZHA see society's development differently and I’m willing to talk about my optimism for more market-based organization processes and entrepreneurial solutions to societal problems. Solutions to maybe what we can perceive to be certain economic statements and stagnation in recent years.
Do you think that as the discussion around Zaha Architects changes from one of a star to a system there will be a change?
I think it’s very important because the starchitecture discourse, when the phrase comes up, always has negative connotations of superficiality, celebrity cult, etc. It was very unhelpful to us and certainly not something we or even Zaha was ever aiming for. It’s just not helpful. People become well-known because of a certain merit, because of an inspirational flavor and input of their work into the field. It is generated initially within the discipline through a form of peer recognition before being carried out into the public at large. At that point, some of the reasons why a person became well known get lost and you just have a free floating celebrity. That’s not helping. I don’t think that I’m aspiring to this, nor would I achieve this. At ZHA, we want to focus more on the ideas, principles, and, of course, with respect to society at large and the clients [with whom] we had established a reputation. Colleagues and critics should be able to realize that this is not only a superficial reputation, but a reputation which has reasons to back it up.
I’ve been saying that the discourse on icons is misguided in many ways. Iconography, in a positive sense, is something that becomes conspicuous because it’s innovative and has been rigorously developed from principles. Conspicuity, recognizability, and strangeness can be seen as side-effects even when the act of being iconic is not the driver or the original motif. Instead, it’s a temporary inevitability.
If you look at the Seagram building in New York when it arrived on the scene in the 1950s, it had the shock of a different form of "new." It was incredibly iconic and of a totally new civilization. However, this is only a temporary condition. Now the city has been remade in its image and you hardly notice it. Only architects who are aware of this notice. That is the way we should look at some of our work. As temporarily conspicuous and not necessarily something which we are craving for. Our work is not meant to be a spectacle and this is important to realize because it can very easily become a target for icon and star bashing. This is incredibly unhelpful because it’s no longer talking about the merit and demerit the of the work, its arguments, and the innovative thrust of a project, but rather its superficial celebrity status.
Do you see the parametricism as being the "next modernism?"
Yes, though they have very different technological social paradigms. This civilization has evolved into a new condition and, as a result, the built environment is bound to change with it. In fact, it has been continuously changing but in ways which the discipline so far hasn’t impacted it sufficiently. If parametricism does not become hegemonic like modernism was in the 1960s, then it means that the discipline has become impotent. Currently, we have retro styles like neo-rationalism dominating construction in London and that simply means that the last 50 years of architectural research development made no impact at all. You might as well have shut down all organs of architectural criticism or schools of architecture or biennials because they came to zero.
The design forms three interconnected spaces that offer unique perspectives of their surrounding and interior spatial arrangements. Potter adds that this encourages "playful interaction" and allows visitors to climb up the and around the structure while also providing a "space for personal reflection and communal gathering." If Potter's $25,575 dream is realized, PURSUIT will be burnt to the ground when Burning Man is over, perhaps symbolizing the final end of the "pursuit."