As I set about writing on "interactive architecture" this week, I was struck by the semantic challenges and numerous connotations of "interactivity." Nowadays we have grown accustomed to commonly using 'Interactive Architecture' to denote "the convergence of embedded computation and kinetics in architectural form with the intention to involve human and environmental responses."
Much has been written on this intriguing contemporary trend and much more is to be expected in the future. Within a short period of time the technocratic version of interactive architecture has emerged as a detached design discipline with its own circle of active researchers like interactivearchitecture.org and designinginteractions.com to name a few. It is clear that modern technology is a key element to how we might define interactive architecture.
Therefore, why not address interactive architectural design in the broader sense of buildings' ability to communicate? Architectural objects and spaces with the ability to respond hold greater appeal than their pragmatically constructed kin, much like a communicative person is easier to relate to. The examples I have picked to illustrate this are largely an attempt at covering the variety of interactive architecture; I have tried to attach some distinction between two types of behavior - "structural" and "media" interactivity.
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Nordic Pavilion for the Venice Biennale by Sverre Fehn Designed in 1962 to host the Biennale exhibitions for three nations - Sweden, Norway and Finland - the Nordic Pavilion seems like a fairly straightforward illustration of inherent spatial interaction with nature. For more information and images, CLICK HERE. Image: seier+seier
The Tree Hotel near Harads, Sweden by Tham & Videgaard Architects The mirror-surfaced floating volumes of the tree hotel in the far north of Sweden close to the Arctic Circle set a fine example of inherent visual interaction with nature. For more information and images, CLICK HERE. Image: Tham & Videgård Arkitekter
Social Housing in Mulhouse, France by Lacaton & Vassal Architects After architects' own words they aimed to produce quality houses that were - for the same price - considerably larger than standardized housing usually allows for. Using inexpensive industrial products and doing without high-end details, they were able to produce nearly twice the space for the regular price. My example of inherent economic interaction with community. For more information and images, CLICK HERE. Image: Lacaton & Vassal
Rolex Learninig Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland by SANAA Contrary to common interpretation, The Rolex Learning Centre is no poetic reference to landscape architecture – it was made that way in an attempt at effortless accessibility and thus illustrates a form of inherent spatial interaction with community – with a sense of social awareness, I might add. For more information and images, CLICK HERE. Image: dezeen.com
House With a Slide, Tokyo, Japan by Level Architects The three-storey family residence that features a continuous circulation route that utilizes both stairs and the playground equipment engages in a fun-filled form of social interaction with its inhabitants. For more information and images, CLICK HERE. Image: Level Architects
Kunsthaus Bregenz, Bregenz, Austria by Peter Zumthor The museum was designed to catch light with all of its surface and then distribute it into the three levels of the gallery space plus the ground floor. A graceful kin to other buildings in its immediate environment, the building goes a long way in its ability to tolerantly and subtly interact with modern art and its audience. Quite purportedly picked, this image of the Kunsthaus holding in 2001 The Mediated Motion installation by Olafur Eliasson in collaboration with Gunter Vogt, tells us stories on thorough interaction. For more information and images, CLICK HERE. Image: © Olafur Eliasson. Photo: KUB/Markus Treffer
The Blur Building, Yverdon-les-bains, Switzerland by Diller & Scofidio, recently of Diller Scofidio + Renfro Designed for the Swiss National Expo 2002 the centerpiece pavilion exhibition is a suspended platform shrouded in a perpetual cloud of man-made fog. The cloud can host up to 400 visitors. This example would have to serve as soft transition into technology-related interactive architecture of recent years and could perhaps be summarized as, well, social interaction through technology-powered nature-mimicking. For more information and images, CLICK HERE. Image: Diller & Scofidio
Kunsthaus Graz, Graz, Austria by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier Completed in 2003 using up a rather low budget the building is commonly denoted by the blue alien appearance of its roof cover. Its most valuable characteristics however lie with the internal organization of the building and its interaction with surroundings that make it impossible for visitors to ignore how well the building works as a space to display art. The Kunsthaus Graz is also a true pioneer of modern-day interactive design because of its BIX media facade - an instrument of art communication. For more information and images, CLICK HERE. Image: Kunsthaus Graz
La Defense Offices, Almere, Netherlands by UN Studio The outer walls of the office building keep it inonspicuous in an environment of grey brickwork buildings, however the walls of the inner courtyard come to life through their iridescent glass cladding with a specific foil cover that according to lighting and perspective changes color. A fine blend of community interaction and interaction with environment through adaptive use of technology. For more information and images, CLICK HERE Image: UN Studio.
Japanese Pavilion Installation at the Venice Biennale 2008 by Junya Ishigami To put the finishing touch – and at the same time leave an open end – to my collection of interactive architecture I have chosen to remind you of the Japanese Pavilion in 2008. With most of the installation located in its gardens, the actual pavilion became a white board for the author to visualize his reflections on possible development of interaction between plants and architecture on local and broader urban scale. For more information and images, CLICK HERE. Image: © designboom
Singular examples of responsive architecture could be traced back to as early as the 1930s. Cedric Price was perhaps the first and most influential of the pre-digital age architects to adopt the early theoretical work in cybernetics and extend it to an architectural concept of "anticipatory architecture." But it took a couple of decades more to get those ideas to sink into practical architecture design.
In the past, this type of architecture has like art, philosophy and literature, experienced periods of unpopularity. All those who went to architecture school are bound to have suffered a certain form of architectural "academicitis" (as J. D. Salinger nicely put it on another occasion) focused much more on aesthetics and avant-garde philosophy than on responsive ability in architecture.
In trying to establish where interactivity stands recently, we might want to consider the Venice Biennale (a sort of an architectural trend-setter or perhaps trend-analyzer institution) and examine some of its latest themes - what started off as 'Less Aesthetics, More Ethic' under director Massimiliano Fuksas in 2000, by 2008 had already reached the stage of 'Architecture Beyond Building' under director Aaron Betsky and even went as far as the 2010 'People Meet in Architecture' directed by Kazuyo Sejima. From this progression it seems that architecture is returning to the notion that the capacity to interact could be the ultimate criteria in architectural design.
The Bartlett's lecturer and founder of interactivearchitecture.org Ruairi Glynn explains it's importance and gives some insight in to it's future:
I think it's beginning to get wider recognition as a valuable asset to the buildings where it has been used well and as the technology for these kinds of projects become cheaper, more powerful and importantly smaller to the point of becoming invisible, I see it being embedded into wider mainstream architecture. The problem is making architects realize that you can do more with intelligent architecture than just control heating, airflow, and security systems.
He goes on to give a few warnings on possible outcomes:
...Interactive Architecture does one of two things. It either accepts its place in time and serves a function for that period and then either is replaced or it is kept as a historical artifact or it is an open system capable of change so as to adapt to the changing role of the fixed architecture it inhabits. It's important to recognize however that while technological obsolescence can almost be charted on a graph, the cultural obsolescence of existing and future examples of Interactive Architecture are much harder to predict...
Where do you think interactive architecture will go next?
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