Interview of Adam Somlai-Fischer
If you're a regular reader of the blog you might be familiar with the work of Adam Somlai-Fischer and his studio Aether Architecture as i've maniacally blogged most of their projects.
Aether architecture develops interactive installations such as the BrainMirror, that mixes the image of your brain with your mirror image; works on research projects like Low Tech Sensors and Actuators (developed together with Usman Haque) that investigates how low-tech sensors and interactive actuators can be produced inexpensively from hacked toys and devices; and explores the thresholds between architecture and media with the Aether Induction House prototypes.
More recently, the group has been presenting Ping Genius Loci in several countries. The installation is made of 300 radio networked, solar powered, self sustainable analogue pixels, placed on a 20 by 20 meters grid. These pixels are interfacing the people walking in the grid. It also can act as a large low resolution screen as each device individually switches its RGB like configurations.
Adam is currently busy co-coordinating Reorient - migrating architectures, the Hungarian project to the architecture biennale in Venice. The project involves laying cat bricks, wiring little penguins, hanging cars on the walls, composing a moving sound collage, creating an ultrasonic garden... The work is looking into the local aspects of China's global significance and increasing influence. The final installation will re-appropriate cheap and ubiquitous technologies to present an alternative contemporary architectural experience built from thousands of functioning networked Chinese toys.
What is your background? How did you start aether architecture?
During the last years of my architecture studies we started making flash websites, with a architectural agenda. We were fascinated, that the way people talk about the web is so much location, place -like, but its appearance was dominated by magazine-like graphic design aesthetics. We tried to translate concepts like atmosphere or adaptive spaces into flash websites. We actually formed aether (first called lowcat) around this, with Peter Hudini and Anita Pozna, while making sites like the mirallestagliabue.com.
Our increasingly technology-mediated environment is giving way to new models of architecture. What do you think are the challenges of these new breeds of architecture? Do you feel that the whole architecture field has understood what s going on or is there still some resistance to it and sticking to old forms of architecture?
What’s the impetus of your research on low tech solutions?
There are several reasons. Following on the above, invention in architecture can not rely on expensive and inaccessible technologies. We do have massive amounts of available ubiquitous intelligence lying around without being utilized. Also in general, the thinking culture of opening and re-appropriating available technologies is very interesting I think. It also has to do with technological literacy, and your own personal freedom to express yourself and change your social and private spaces.
You put the development process of your work online, onto the "Open Design Archives". Which kind of feedback have you received so far? Has it been useful? What would you say to architects or designers who are afraid of making such open move?
How do you finance your experiments? Do you rely on grants? Commercial commissions?
Both, and some academic research as well. These are the 3 major contexts, cultural funds, academic research and commercial commissions, and i think i gain from all of them.
Is Hungary a fertile ground for the kind of interactive space you re working on? How s the scene over there?
The scene is tiny. I rely on cheap flights and lots of online socializing.
The Hungarian Pavilion you re working on for the architecture Biennale in Venice seems to be quite unconventional. Can you tell us a few words about it? Why did you chose to focus on "China’s global significance and increasing influence"?
Just to make it absolutely clear (again), its a team work, with about 10 other people, and my main role is the coordination of the installation, but its a fairly flat setup.
Can you detail some of the installations in the pavilion, like radio arbour and ultrasonic garden?
Unlike what one would expect for an architecture biennale, you haven t worked following the usual scenario involving a curator and an architecture studio. Instead, you've been collaborating with social scientists, media researchers and anthropologists. Are you familiar with this interdisciplinary method? Is it an easy task to work with people from such different fields and speaking different language? Do you think that it is the way to do architecture today? Why? Because our world is increasingly complex?
How do you expect the public to react to the pavilion? will it be a very intuitive experience or does it require lovely hostesses giving explanations about the way to interact or handing leaflets explaining how it works?
No explanations, no metaphorical works. We expect this space to be love-able, desirable, and than next step is make-able, DIY-able, so that people don't run to us, could you make a (put your favorite thing here) but go to the website, and download the PCB layout or whatever they need to make something. Though I have to admit this is an experiment, so the above is what we are hoping for :)
You are awfully young and successful. Do you have tips for would-be interaction designer/architect who would like to explore the same field as you?
You are very kind, thank you, well this is really relative, I don't feel it’s that bad, I hope I am still at the beginning :)
Any artist or architect from Hungary whom you think should get more attention from the public?
Nextlab. It's a small open community, an independent media lab from Budapest, with a set of great people like Tamas Szakal (remember float from isea2004) or Andras Kangyal, and many others. (site members page is not very up to date)
See Re:orient at the 10th International Architecture Exhibition which will run from September 10 to November 19, 2006 in Venice, Italy. Have your bluetooth on during your visit to the pavilion, as the Hungarian team will be pushing project goodies to your mobile phone!