Furl: Soft Pneumatic Pavilion is another* project i discovered at the graduation show of The interactive Architecture Lab, a Bartlett School of Architecture research group and Masters Programme headed by Ruairi Glynn, Christopher Leung and William Bondin.
Bijing Zhang and Francois Mangion explored the field of soft robotics and its future applications to create an adaptive architecture that responds to the human body:
"Furl" combines Electroencephalography (EEG) with advances in soft silicone casting of "air muscles". The introduction of soft robotics replaces the mechanical principles in interactive architecture through a biological paradigm. EEG allows sensing of human brain functioning so that our environments begin moving and responding to our very thoughts. The designed components have a wide palette of deformation patterns of inflation. Through combination of soft and hard architectural elements, "Furl" creates a new platform for a kinetic responsive architecture which can let space interact with users needs and adapt itself to environmental conditions.
Quick conversation with one of the creators of Furl:
Hi François! I hope I'm not going to shock you but I find that Furl is very fascinating but also a bit repulsive. It's a bit of an upsetting creature. It's mechanical but it also looks like it has some flesh that moves and 'lives' and that makes me uncomfortable. So why didn't you decide to make a cute little soft robot?
It is not a shock at all, in the Interactive Architecture Lab, people often attach some kind of a distinct behavioural character to their work and Furl is no exception. We always thought about Furl as a curious 'creature' of polarities, soft responsive moving components in contrast with the stiff sharp structure.
The description text in the catalogue mentions applications of soft robotics in architecture. Where do you see these applications happening? What would a 'soft responsive architecture' be able to do for us?
There's a lot of interest in robotics in Architecture right now. Mostly in fabrication but increasingly thinking about how buildings and space as whole can be kinetic in their response to inhabitation. The problem is that robotics and mechanisms are typically rigid, sometimes dangerous, and generally incompatible with close proximate behavior to people. Soft robotics creates a new platform for architecture, to interact much more sensitively and directly to the human body. These physical properties of soft materials offer a potential to create 'soft' architectural structures or components which can shift shape, rotate, bend unlike anything we've seen in architecture to date. It might be sometime before such techniques are commonplace but we think it opens up new horizons in biologically inspired architecture, an interdisciplinary approach that could potentially lead to a revolution towards a 'soft responsive architecture'.
Could you briefly tell us how the soft part works? In particular, what makes it inflate?
The soft responsive components forming Furl are "air muscles". Made of two layers of silicone with different degrees of elasticity and with air channels cast within them. This difference in mechanical properties and the arrangement of the air channels makes the muscle transform in different ways. You can essentially programme the behaviour of the air muscles by varying moulds for casting the soft material so that it can produce different 'gestures' based on geometries (such as thickness, ratio, depiction) of the solid part the air muscles and air channels. A lot of material experimentation was lead by Bijing Zhang based on work by previous members of IAL including Ben Haworth and Rom Khampanya.
Can you explain me the part about Electroencephalography: "EEG allows sensing of human brain functioning so that our environments begin moving and responding to our very thoughts." How does it work? What can EEG sense exactly? And how does Furl respond?
Our approach to brain sensing was developed in collaboration with DSI (Data Science Institute) at the Imperial College. Using their brain sensors we were able to get raw data about levels of alpha (α), beta (β), delta (δ), and theta (Θ) brain waves. The EEG signal is closely related to the level of concentration of the person. As the activity increases, the EEG shifts to higher dominating type of brain wave frequency and lower amplitude. If people concentrated it alters the theta brain waves frequency and this would active the muscles to inflate. This was actually quite a simple response to what is actually much more powerful data that harnessed with pattern recognition and learning algorithms could spell the end of needing to touch or speak to devices or environments to control them.
Since we're exploring the softness of material, we felt that brain sensing in some way, was the equivalent in soft control. Even more powerful to simple control would be buildings able to take the data and predict and anticipate our needs even before we do. Its an exciting and equally terrifying area of research we're starting to explore and this was just a prototype of that idea.
What was the biggest challenge(s) you encountered while developing the work?
The biggest challenge we had to deal with was to acquire the knowledge of the material's physical properties and develop full understanding of the change in the dynamic behaviour of the air muscles with respect to the specific internal air channels. Through a series of design and fabricated tests we were continuously exploring the capability of mimicking a more natural behaviour and interaction.
Are you planning to push this research into soft robotics any further?
Yes, definitely there are still a lot of challenges we have to deal with and the scaling up to architectural scale at this stage is something that we have to explore. On the other hand we also want to investigate the possibility of prototyping a one functional component with embedded hard materials for structural, interactive and dynamic capabilities. We also look forward in developing further the brain sensor control aiming towards full-scale soft responsive architecture.
* see also The Eye Catcher.
Imagine Architecture. Artistic Visions of the Urban Realm, by Lukas Feireiss and Robert Klanten.
Publisher Gestalten writes: Contemporary developments in the visual arts are often reflected in urban landscapes. Imagine Architecture explores the ways in which visual culture develops in public spaces and how it shapes those spaces. This book focuses on the fruitful exchange between visual culture and architecture and follows up on the themes introduced in our previous release Beyond Architecture. It compiles experimental projects and creative perspectives from the fields of illustration, painting, collage, sculpture, photography, installation, and design.
A young generation of creatives sees the urban landscape as the starting point for their work. When these illustrators, sculptors, or photographers engage with architecture, their art overrules conventional doctrines on the use of space. They use buildings as a medium for their ideas, breaking norms and triggering new tensions. Whether they make sculptures that are created within the context of a given structure or street art whose forms and colors impact its surrounding architecture, all of the featured projects interpret and reflect their spatial settings in compelling ways. In the process, these visionary concepts are playfully expanding the definition of architecture. Their creativity has the potential to breathe new life into public spaces and promote the evolution of our cities.
Imagine Architecture follows Gestalten magical recipe: a theme which will catch everyone's imagination, a straightforward introduction, a brief description of each work and lots of very big images. The formula works every time.
It's not my favourite book from Gestalten though. It's still a brilliant one but i opened it with the assumption that artists exploring architecture were always going to be far more thought-provoking than architects expressing the radical or outlandish ideas you'd expect from an artist. I looked back at architecture titles i've reviewed in the past (in particular the two i've just linked to) and realize that i was wrong, i shouldn't dismiss architects' creativity.
Now to what i like about the book: the title and content might be catchy but that doesn't reduce the Imagine Architecture to a catalogue of what was cool and trendy on design and art blogs these past couple of years. The editors have brought to light gems from exhibitions and portfolios that haven't reached the mainstream yet. Some of the works are deeply political. Others have no other ambition than be poetical. Some are paper models of an imaginary city that, like a real one, is ever growing, ever-evolving. Others are typographic experiments that attempt to dialogue with architecture. Some explore architecture through the introspective lens of the home. Others look at the arrogance of men who hope to control and dominate from the height of the towers they've built.
Right, i can see now that my arid review hasn't probably done justice to the book, let the images speak then:
Tom Sachs' The Island is a modified model of the radar tower of the USS Enterprise CVN-65, "The world's first and finest nuclear powered aircraft carrier." It's also one of my favourite works ever.
The Fog Factory is the model of the area around the train station in Nancy, France. Fog, which creeps over the streets, constitutes the architecture, an artificial copy of a meteorological phenomenon, mechanically produced but randomly distributed and imponderable.
Beth Dow looks at the American environments, and its penchant for fake antiquities. My pictures of faked antiquities are an attempt to evoke nostalgia for inaccurate history, to wrestle with ideas of authenticity, and to question the value we place on classical ideals.
Laurent Chehere looks for understated and overlooked examples of architecture in Paris. From caravans to circus tents to sex shops. He photographs them and then sends them high up in the air from his digital manipulation room.
Collapscapes are fictitious industrial spaces made of glass. Called Chemical Plant, Mine Shaft, Super Collider and Gas Depot, the objects look at industrial architecture and the contraction (or collapse) of industrial sites that follows increasingly mechanised production.
A synthetic cotton treehouse for children in the shape of a mushroom cloud.
Daryl Chen's New Socialist Village explores what the UK can learn about planning from the community living in the village of Caochangdi, an atypical 'new socialist village' outside of Beijing. In the space created by the Chinese government's evolving planning laws, the village's growth is driven by the instincts of local peasants and the bohemian opportunism of artists who have established a set of unstated rules governing urban form.
Jiang Pengyi creates Unregistered Cities, miniature abandoned cities. He then places them in the historic abandoned houses that Beijing's hunger for "excessive urbanization, redevelopment and demolition" has left to rot.
Views inside the book:
Yesterday was the press view of Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age at the Barbican Art Gallery. I eagerly go to those journalist tours because i'm allowed to take photos to my heart's content. The day after it's often strictly verboten.
Constructing Worlds looks at how photographers have documented key moments in the history of 20th and 21st century architecture: the skyscrapers rising up in New York, the remains of an industrial Europe well past its glory days, the glamorous Californian lifestyle of the 1940s, the unstoppable urbanisation of China, the traces of colonization in Africa, the aftermath of the war on Afghanistan, India's enthusiasm for modernity as built in Chandigarh by Le Corbusier, etc.
I was particularly seduced by the photos from the 1930s to 1970s. Their authors looked for beauty and evidences of social changes where most people would have only registered dust and mortar.
Constructing Worlds exhibits the work of 18 photographers only. But that's good enough for me as i'm no fan of those Barbican shows that asphyxiate you by their discouragingly high amount of images and information. I'm therefore going to follow suit and keep my comments short.
In 1929, Berenice Abbott traveled to New York City after having spent eight years in Europe. In her absence, countless 19th-century buildings had been razed to make way for skyscrapers. She decided to stay in the country and document the changing face of the city. By 1940, the photographer had completed "Changing New York," an invaluable historical testimony of a life in Manhattan that has disappeared.
Walker Evans is famous for the work he did for the Farm Security Administration documenting the effects of the Great Depression. I've seen these images several times before but i doubt i'll ever get tired of them. The photos were taken at the same time as Berenice Abbott's.
Guy Tillim's work examines modern history in Africa against the backdrop of its colonial and post-colonial architectural heritage.
Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age is at the Barbican Art Gallery until 11 January 2015.
Radical Cities: Across Latin America in Search of a New Architecture, by Justin McGuirk.
Publisher Verso Books writes: What makes the city of the future? How do you heal a divided city?
In Radical Cities, Justin McGuirk travels across Latin America in search of the activist architects, maverick politicians and alternative communities already answering these questions. From Brazil to Venezuela, and from Mexico to Argentina, McGuirk discovers the people and ideas shaping the way cities are evolving.
Ever since the mid twentieth century, when the dream of modernist utopia went to Latin America to die, the continent has been a testing ground for exciting new conceptions of the city. An architect in Chile has designed a form of social housing where only half of the house is built, allowing the owners to adapt the rest; Medellín, formerly the world's murder capital, has been transformed with innovative public architecture; squatters in Caracas have taken over the forty-five-storey Torre David skyscraper; and Rio is on a mission to incorporate its favelas into the rest of the city.
Here, in the most urbanised continent on the planet, extreme cities have bred extreme conditions, from vast housing estates to sprawling slums. But after decades of social and political failure, a new generation has revitalised architecture and urban design in order to address persistent poverty and inequality. Together, these activists, pragmatists and social idealists are performing bold experiments that the rest of the world may learn from.
It's mid July and this might already be my favourite book of the year 2014 (unless Jo Nesbo publishes a new one before December.) It is lively, daring, insightful and it might actually be one of the very few books about future cities that make sense to me.
While we (in Europe) are still proudly exhibiting in biennials 3D printed visions of what the city of tomorrow might look like, cities in South and Central America are already experiencing elements of our future urban conditions. Countries in Latin America have not only gone through mass urbanization long before China and Africa, they've also given rise to a new generation of architects who believe that architecture can be used as a tool for social change. These men (who are not only architects but also in some cases squatters and politicians) have had to respond to housing crisis, traffic congestion, segregation, lack of political participation and other effects of rapid unplanned urbanization.
The urban experiments described in Radical Cities should teach European and North American urban planners and architects valuable lessons about conceiving and managing the mega cities of the future. Such as what happens when you value adaptability over perfect order, acknowledge the informal city as a vital part of the urban ecosystem, include the citizen into collective efforts of imagination and construction or embrace and work with the dynamic force that is precariousness.
Among the cases explored:
Alejandro Aravena created social housing for a poor community living in the north of Chile. He simply provided families with half a house and they built the rest, within a defined structural framework. The project was self-initiated and the final dwellers of the houses were involved in the design process.
In Colombia, it's a new radicalized political class that took the initiative of improving the quality of life of all urban dwellers. The movement started in the 1990s when Antanas Mockus, the mayor of Bogotá used tactics of performance artists to tackle violence and instil a new civic culture. He reduced road accidents by hiring mime artists to mock bad behaviour on the road and to direct traffic, he set up a scheme allowing people to exchange their guns for toys and he dressed as Superciudadano (SuperCitizen) to urge his fellow citizen to take care of their urban environment. The results of his unorthodox social experiments included homicide rate dropping by 70% and traffic fatalities by more than 50%.
Torre David which the author calls 'a pirate utopia' is the third tallest skyscraper in Caracas. Built in the business district to host luxury offices, the building had stood empty for 13 years until 2007 when squatters moved in. Some 3000 people now live in "the tallest squat in the world.' Inhabitants managed to organize a legitimate electricity distribution, they enjoy spectacular views over the city and live in apartments that range from the barely inhabitable to well furnished flats with all commodities. The building has developed its own community rules and even houses convenience stores and bodegas every two floors. On the other hand, there is no elevator so going to the top floor with the grocery can quickly turn into a fitness challenge. There are open facades and holes in the floor and accidents happen if you don't stay away from the edge.
I know you're not supposed to ever be tired of London but if you feel like a change of atmosphere, there's some rather spectacular disused wind tunnels to gape at in Farnborough, a mere 35 minute train ride from Waterloo station.
The Wind Tunnel project filled with site-specific commissions two wind tunnels buildings, known as R52 and Q121, that were built to test planes, from Spitfires to Concorde. These buildings were decommissioned after the 1960s and have remained closed to the public ever since.
Opened in 1935, Q121 is the largest wind tunnel in Great Britain. Inside, two gigantic holes face each other. One is a powerful fan with 600kg blades which would drag air fast and furious across the space between them to test complete planes and sections of bigger airplanes.
R52 was built in 1917. It is now an empty hangar but it used to house one of the world's earliest aerodynamic testing facilities.
McIntyre-Burnie's sound pieces makes use of archive materials from the BBC to fill the impressive Q121.
The basis of his sound work is an outside recording made by the BBC of the song of a nightingale in 1942 in a garden in Surrey. It was a yearly broadcast since 1924 but this year, the microphone accidentally picked up the sound of RAF bombers flying overhead on their way to Germany. The program had to be interrupted, for fear it would have tipped off Germany about the upcoming bombing attack.
McIntyre-Burnie's new composition fills the wind tunnel. It doesn't try and compete with the impressive structure (that would be foolish.) In fact, it make the whole experience of going through the historical space even more awe-inspiring.
One of Bridle's works, Rainbow Plane 001, also paid homage to the history of the site. The installation outlines the silhouette of a Miles M.52, an experimental supersonic aircraft developed in secret to break the sound barrier at Farnborough in the early 1940s.
The contour is shown as if distorted by the pansharpening effect of satellite photography, as if viewed, in flight, from space. There never was any original photography of that Miles M.52 in flight. First of all because, the aircraft never flew. It was a research project that was cancelled in 1946 even though its aerodynamics had been successfully demonstrated by a scale model. Besides, satellites don't take 'photos' of what lays below them. Instead, they use sensors to look down onto the earth and acquire information about its surface and atmosphere.
Rainbow Plane 001 is ducted tapped under the site's portable airship hangar. The structure was one of the 6 airship sheds in the UK at the outset of WWI and it probably isn't as 'portable' as its name suggests. It is estimated that it would take 50 men ten days to dismantle the structure, 7 to load it onto railway and 2 to 3 weeks to reassemble it.
The Wind Tunnel Project was organised by Artliner and curated by Salma Tuqan. I must say that the website of the project is one of the most frustratingly dysfunctional i've ever visited. Anyway, you can see the tunnels and artworks in Farnborough until the 20th of July. A shuttle service is helpfully available outside the Farnborough railway station.
More images from the wind tunnel (I also posted a photo set from the opening on flickr, if ever you're interested):
Most people are fascinated by ruins. The appeal of the crumbling and the decaying is such that it has its own term in photography. It is called "ruin porn" and Detroit is one of its most celebrated subjects. Tate Britain currently has an exhibition about the mournful, thrilling, comic and perverse uses of ruins in art. It is called Ruin Lust. Not because Tate curators are prude and proper but because they are erudite, the title of the show, i read, comes from the 18th-century German architectural word Ruinenlust.
The exhibition begins with the eighteenth century's fascination for ruins among artists, writers, architects and travelers. Think J.M.W. Turner and John Constable. I can't summon much enthusiasm for paintings, etchings and sculptures of the past so i'm going to stop the romantic trip here, shamelessly skip the first parts of the exhibition and focus solely on contemporary works. Most of them photography.
Contemporary artists see ruins, not simply as scenes for aesthetic pleasure and remembrance of past glory, they also question their essence and even view them as as sites of rebirth and new opportunities.
Even if i deliberately only enjoyed a small part of Ruin Lust, i exited the show content and ready to enjoy any overlooked and crap-looking bit of urbanism London has to offer (before they become a real estate 'prime location'.)
Here is a hasty tour of the show. It represent only a very subjective and photography-heavy perspective of it:
Jane and Louise Wilson have long explored architectural spaces that evoke power and control. The artists started photographing decaying Nazi bunkers on France's Normandy Coast, after having read an article by J.G. Ballard on their place in modernist architecture. "We were intrigued by the World War II bunkers that were being drawn back into the water," Jane says. "It was like something from an ancient civilization, but darker."
The Russian Ending, by Tacita Dean, is a series of photogravures with etching inspired by postcards documenting disastrous events. The title of the series refers to a cinematographic practice of the early 20th Century when the last sequences of European movies exported to America and Russia were filmed twice. American audiences would watch the 'Happy End' while a 'Tragic End' was made for Russians.
Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin have photographed marks and drawings made on the walls of what seems to have become a tourist hotspot in the town of Sulaymaniyah in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq: the Red House. The building was originally the headquarters of Saddam's Ba'athist party. It was also a place of incarceration, torture and often death for many Kurds. Broomberg and Chanarin
The artists photographed the marks left by Kurdish prisoners. We cannot tell what marks were made when and in what order. History presents itself as a palimpsest. If you wish you can sense in these photographs echoes of Brassai's surrealist images of scratched grafitti from 1930s Paris or Aaron Siskind's photos from the 1950s of daubs and tears made in hommage to abstract expressionist painting. But the context is more pressing and more fraught. The traces recorded by these photographs may relate to past events in the history of the Red House but nothing is settled in Iraq yet. While the photographs are fixed forever, these may not be the last marks made on these walls - David Campany.
In 1984 and Beyond, Byrne re-enacts a discussion, published in Playboy in 1963, in which science fiction writers - including Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke - speculated about what the world might be like in 1984. Unsurprisingly, they were way off the mark.
Black-and-white photographs accompany the video work look like they came straight from the 1960s but if you look better you realize that they show objects, landscapes, cityscapes and scenes that might just as well belong to 1963, 1984 or now. They show the future that might have been, that probably never was but that still loiter in today's world.
Keith Arnatt's deadpan series A.O.N.B. (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) subverts the idea of what is picturesque and what deserves to get our attention by pointing the camera to the most prosaic man-made interventions in the landscape.
Five Sisters is a derelict land site in the Midlothian and West Lothian area which John Latham, during his artist's placement with the Scottish Development Office, recommended they be preserved as monuments. He also proposed that the 'bings' (huge heaps of coal waste) should be preserved as monuments. Latham's proposed to erect sculptures, in the form of books, on the summits of the 'bings'.
Instead of working like a photojournalist and look for dramatic scenes to document, Graham searched for subtle traces of political instability left in the landscape. Graham said: "It's a combination of landscape and conflict photography, using small seductive landscapes to reveal the details."
Savage photographed abandoned locations around North Kensington. In the 1970s, the area had very little in common with the chic neighbourhood it later became. He wrote:
These photos were taken on an old Pentax during January 1977: their purpose was to serve as an image bank for the second issue of the fanzine London's Outrage. The location was the square of North Kensington that lies between Holland Park Road, the Shepherd's Bush spur, Westbourne Park Road and the Harrow Road.
The bulk of the images come from the streets around Latimer Road and Lancaster Road: the district called Notting Dale. Here, as in other inner London areas like W9 (the Chippenham) and WC2 (Covent Garden), the tide of industry and humanity had temporarily receded. Slum housing stock had been demolished, but there was no reconstruction: squatting communities like Frestonia (based in Notting Dale's Freston Road) occupied the remaining buildings. Not yet the clichés of punk iconography, large tower blocks loomed like primitive monsters above the rubble and the corrugated iron. I was guided to this area after seeing the Clash and the Sex Pistols. I was very taken with the Clash, partly because their North Kensington manor was so close to mine. Songs like "How Can I Understand The Flies" and "London's Burning" reflected their environment with precision and passion. London was very poor in the late seventies. (via)
Rachel Whiteread's 1996 prints show tower blocks on three housing estates in east London at the moment of their demolition. The images were scanned from photographs and stages in each of these demolitions were documented in three photographs taken from the same view-point. A fourth photograph of each site from a different location records moments that preceded or followed the knocking down.
The Demolished photos record what Whiteread calls 'something that is going to be completely forgotten ... the detritus of our culture', creating a memorial to the past in the hope of generating something better for the future.
Tacita Dean's film Kodak explores the ruin of images and obsolescence of technology. The artist traveled to Chalon-sur-Saône (France) in 2006 to visit and film the final days of the production of the company's 16-mm film stock.
On the day of filming, the factory also ran a test through the system with brown paper, providing a rare opportunity to see the facilities fully illuminated, without the darkness needed to prevent exposure.
Please, don't let this post convince you that i don't like painting. Laura Oldfield Ford's look at brutalist estates and architecture's failed attempts to build an egalitarian society.