SPEAKER: Well, thank you for that introduction, Liz, and I'm very, very happy to be bracketed by these two presentations from absolutely esteemed colleagues. I love the patiently constructed model that-- and the analysis of built projects that Michael and Jeffrey have offered, and I can't wait to see that visionary ecstasy that that I know that my Terraform colleagues offer. It's wonderful to be in both presenters' company.
I'm going to be speaking about hopefully a series of projects coming from my personal practice that I do hope will be a contribution to the question of the building envelope and of an expanded sense of relationship with the environment. And it comes from a sense of working with a figure in a ground, that enormously fraught traditional relationship that art and architecture has dwelt on. In the case of the projects that I'm going to be sharing with you, the location is rather intimate. It starts with individual human figures and the sense of architecture that might function as a kind of an expanded physiology of working with the rather subtle set of phenomena that emanate outside of each of our bodies and that stand between our own selves and the buildings and the environment that stretch around.
I'm going to just skip very quickly through a series of projects just to describe the kind of practice, and then I'll try and argue for it as a way of working that might make a contribution. It starts with intimacy, with a sense of touch, with all of our senses encountering and interacting. And perhaps in that kind of space, there might be engendered a kind of response, a resonance, in which materials might vibrate and might know us and might be suffused with the kind of presence that might foster an exchange back and forth, the kind of exchange that might encourage us to see a world as not being one that is automatically polarized-- you're either with us, or you're with the terrorists-- but rather see ourselves as having a series of expanded multiple identities, perhaps some of them collective, perhaps some of them even community based, perhaps even embracing nations and provinces again rather than seeing those kind of terms as instruments of abuse. Rather we could see those kind of scales as opportunities, as tremendously enabling kind of qualities.
Within that sense of a building block or the scale of intimacy, we have a kind of strategy that then is built into an environment which starts out very, very quietly as a set of mesh works and structures, which fold around us as a ghost like system of almost crystalline enabling scaffolds. Small amounts of response ripple out from this far from the kind of instrumental response of an automatic moving door or robot that does our bidding, rather the kind of pursuit of a resonance of a mutual relationship in which our own impacts might be acutely felt and a sense of exchange with the environment so that there's an embedded empathy within the environment moving back and imprinting itself on us. Welcome.
Increasingly, in these works, which have started with structure and textile-like formations and mechanisms, there is now an increasingly saturated kind of soil of vessels, a reticulum full of small mineral and chemical processes which foster a kind of metabolism of gently incrementally working with processes, processes that might be benign such as capturing carbon and turning it into carbonate akin to limestone or perhaps emanating small amounts of skin that might someday be worked to make a self-renewing skin for a building, processes that don't pretend at this point to be tremendously efficient or even responsible but rather which are seeking to sketch a sense of possibility of the start of processes that might occur.
Within those kind of metabolisms, we can see small skin-like formations in there emerging such as this interaction of copper sulfate crystal with a potassium faric cyanide solution, which is generating this lovely kind of copper-based osmotic felt that might be the kind of skin that I'm speaking about. This was done with my dear colleague Rachel Armstrong. It's one of the metabolisms that we're now using in our environment.
And we're trying to work towards more robust systems now. This is an expanded aluminum mesh holding a carbon capturing glass reticulum underneath it, which has semi-automatic valves hanging. This is now in London. It was Nottingham before that. These-- the valving system with within this work, which is included in the hanging filter system that you see below this aluminum scaffold, is constructed akin to a series of leaky heart valves, that is individual rather leaky filters, which are oriented one way and therefore when they're stirred perturbed by our own motion encourage air movement to move through in one oriented axis. And so the entire thing not in an efficient way, but in a gentle, incremental way becomes a static pump that generally pumps and impels air through it. And you can see some of the formulas that are in it, they're very simple ones. They're setup either to capture carbon or else emanate skins within them.
In earlier generations of this work, those kind of simple metabolisms have been chained up to work together with human interaction, such as this little cluster that was at the heart of-- multiplied many times at the heart of the Hylozoic Ground system in Venice and then conditioned in turn, perturbed by flashes of light, conditioned by small plumes of air in order to foster a kind of nourishing environment in which is kind of a soil might grow.
And you can see the kind of layers of this kind of system working here in which Venice water would be let in, process through the part of cell flasks, conditioned by the plumes of air, and then moving into a kind of benign sediment, a breathing system.
Alongside those chemical systems are communication systems, very simple village like tribes akin to a crickets chorus in which one little being passes a signal to another acoustically. And then each thing starts to chorus in relation to its neighbor, clouds of insects or swarms of birds, which move in domino chains making a kind of collective intelligence, by no means a sophisticated one, but somehow rather satisfying in the sense of starting to be able to work with the traces of our own bodies, seeing impacts within the world.
Here in an installation recently done at the Biennale of Sydney called Sybil, you can see the environment at a stage before it's been tuned flashing and jittering and kind of convulsing when the sensor levels are too high and producing something akin to storms across its surface.
More recently, we've been working even more intimately with a series of dresses with an absolutely lovely designer, Iris van Herpen. And these are just being launched in Paris right now and really having a wonderful time with this scale. And again, we're just scratching the surface with this sense in the idea that more than ornament, these can be quite instrumental kind of clothes, instrumental in the sense that they can gently pump air and claim a kind of territory perhaps akin to a halo around each body.
So I'm going to show four parts now to try to make an argument for a way of practice. First, I'll try to go through a series of diagrams that speak in very general ways about a kind of place making, a fundamental kind of positioning in the world, using a formal language of diffusive form.
And then I'm going to talk about some enabling craft, some very simple references to new technologies that might give us a kind of a foothold as designers in working in subtle ways. I'm going to show a couple of projects in a bit more depth. And then I'll end up with some cultural implications that try to situate this quite deliberately as a sense of possibility in addition to being something that might be measurable.
The sense of a relationship that architecture might offer in the world. If I was standing perhaps 100 years ago in the certainty of my own home in Canada, I'm sure that I would be talking about the great enclosing ground, the satisfaction of the solid ground that receives me and the kind of certainty that nature and perhaps my parents as well would always be there for me.
And I could afford to be a kind of a radical or perhaps a trickster or someone who would play knowing that I would be enclosed and supported by something that precedes me, something that is eternal. I think that Vitruvius had that kind of sense of architecture when he thought about venustas and firmitas and utilitas as kind of a core fundament for architecture.
What kind of response might be possible then when that kind of certainty starts to dissolve? What's your own sense of the surface of the world? I can't relate to the surface of the earth as my home in the sense of it being my parent, in the sense of it taking care of me. I think it's rather difficult to speak about what actual relationship, what emotional relationship, one has with the world today. But I'm sure we can at least speak about an uncertainty, perhaps an openness, perhaps a question of what the fundament might be.
And it turns into a project, a project which invites building and fertility and nourishment rather than consumption, rather than standing with certainty. In that kind of environment then, what kind of relationship might architecture offer? And it's very tempting to work perhaps in reverse.
We spoke about Calvin this morning in making a tight jacket in which one's carbon footprint is absolute minimum, in which the footprint in the territory that we take up is as tight and clean and pure and modest as possible as a response. And while those kind of responses are absolutely essential on an ethic level, how much do we consume individually, I can't believe that a reduction is the way to transform things, to impart fertility.
I don't agree with the kind of platonic idea of the world, the idea that the maximum enclosed territory and the minimum envelope, the minimum kind of reactive surface of the earth therefore, is a way that architecture can truly make a kind of a nourishing, renewing sense with the world. I'm sure that that kind of strategy of having a minimum envelope and a maximum enclosing territory is an effective way to enact boundaries, to make a kind of a prophylactic relationship with the world, to reduce our impact.
But it's also the language of missiles, of ballistics, of effective kind of internal capital. And it's a machine, it seems to me, Plato's description in the Timaeus or the formation of the world through minimum surface crystalline things. I think it's a machine for reducing interaction, for refusing kind of relationships, because after all, it's inherently-- I'm speaking of spheres-- of it's inherently a machine for producing the minimum possible interaction. That's what any snippet, any raindrop, would say in any event.
Now if we think about the kind of optimums in form languages, we might think about raindrops and snowflakes. And I find it very curious in my own education why I would be taught to prefer raindrops, those kind of perfectly optimized spheres, that have minimum exposing surfaces, maximum enclosed territory. Why wouldn't we think of a snowflake as being also a kind of an optimum following a completely different thermodynamics, the thermodynamics which say that we want to absolutely shed energy.
We want to get rid of it. We want to have the maximum possible kind of heat sink effect of interaction with the world instead. Why wouldn't that be an optimum instead? Why would we say that that's excessive or irresponsible or frivolous or feminine? Why would we say those things? It's very curious to think about the kind of education that we have in the assumptions of form language.
Well, the work that I'm showing is pretty committed to trying to establish that alternate form language in terms of diffusion, that is to seek the maximum possible interface and interrelationship and an entanglement of a kind of material with the world and to seek that kind of potency as its own kind of optimum.
And perhaps those strategies interwoven, that is a resistance and entanglement in absolutely practical ways-- I'm speaking about design formal languages-- might produce the kind of multiple expanded physiologies that might speak of an involvement and a refertilization and a deeply kind of interwoven world in which we don't necessarily choose where our boundaries lie, but rather they can find and emerge in themselves.
How might we start to work with that kind of idea? In practical ways, I hope. I love this image by Michelle Addington, the brilliant Yale engineer, who uses this image to illustrate her own kind of teaching looking at the kind of thermodynamics around an individual body that reveal this lovely kind of set of convective plumes that kind of multiple kind of actions that reveal that each of our bodies is a small thermodynamic pump, which in the aggregate incidentally might fuel a building. After all, this kind of source of energy is a really extraordinary one.
Might this kind of realm be addressed directly by working with electrogalvanic operations, by working with electrodes, by seeing the kind of energy exchanges as a material craft? Donald Ingber, the wonderful head of the Wyss Institute now, a cancer researcher in Boston, addresses a similar kind of question by revealing the inner anatomy of the cytoplasm, this lovely plasma liquid primary body within typical cells and revealing that instead of it being just a homogeneous soup, perhaps a jelly, perhaps something that you as a proud science student would hatch in nice colored pencil and identify as the cytoplasm, instead-- well, I mean, that's what I did anyway.
I was pretty proud of myself when I did it in grade 9. Instead of that kind of general homogeneous field that we might think of as architects when we think of air or water or these kind of gels or soils, he reveals that this is at least two kinds of protein, mice, myosin and actin, myosin working compressively in microtubules, actin working in-- those are two protein modes-- working as tensile strands. And the two move together and shape these kind of geodesic frameworks, three dimensional space trusses, that then become addressable.
And so it's kind of a lovely sense of finding the anatomy that's practical and addressable as a design space in formally elusive media such as fluids. Rachel Armstrong and a wonderful colleague Martin Hanczyc at an artificial life laboratory in Odense, Denmark, have been teaching me how to work in primary ways with chemistry.
And their own contribution to this project is fundamental. The crafting of skins by being able to work with protocells, that is primary inorganic systems that can weave together and start to make legitimate functioning metabolisms, seeing the kind of impacts of architecture played out therefore in the surrounding milieu, the kind of chemical traces and the chemical quotients that we might be able to count and find as an efficient kind of renewing system.
And if we take those kind of practical systems that I've just been naming, that is the electromagnetism that Michelle Addington speaks of or the chemical systems of Rachel Armstrong or perhaps the resilient structures of Donald Ingber, then perhaps that might weave together into a kind of a spatial model that takes its inspiration from the lymphatic system of our own bodies.
I love the lymph system in the sense of it being a rather shambling, diffusive, brambley kind of set of valves that pumps upward harvesting its energy from our own muscles and pumping lymph through the system and absorbing toxins. Kind of a lovely spacial model, I think, for a highly resilient system.
And with those kind of practical crafts, then it might be possible to address some expanded physiology such as the Aurora Borealis, the electromagnetic field that surrounds the Earth. And I love this sense that this is a tangible thing, something which has its own very explicit anatomy. Perhaps it requires a different set of languages, ones that are rooted in fluid dynamics and ephemera, but tangible nonetheless as a very explicit zone that architects might be able to work with.
Now if this sounds hopeful, then I thought I might as well go for the jugular and do a Christian image. So please take this from whatever inclination you have. My own proud atheist background allows me to travel in this territory with complete naivete. And so I'll tread and insult anyone, I guess.
When Grunewald was painting this-- this is an image from the Isenheim Altarpiece, which is located in Colmar just north of Switzerland, painted in 1525-- I don't think that he was just painting an image, an icon of divinity. I think that he was talking in absolutely practical ways of the spectra of light, which emanates around bodies. And he's observing with incredible precision the kind of physics of energy quanta that move in this kind of gradual stage.
And so I love the sense of this being a very direct kind of field that architecture might be able to address. I'm going to try and just move then through a cluster of projects that perhaps suggests a way that I'm working, I and my collaborators, are working with these qualities personally. And this sequence moves from working with Earth making, geotextiles, that is engineered structures that work with the earth moving through a sense of soil of trying to work with a fertile medium into a stuttering quasiperiodic structural system.
Quasiperiodic is that zone of geometry that is neither strictly periodic like crystals nor random but rather has clumping, moving, semi repeating things. In other words, the organic world that we live in. And that then is chained together with a sense of the diffusive metabolism of integrating simple chemical systems within these works.
And then hopefully in the newest works, we're starting to work with the possibility of an expanded physiology in a couple of collaborations, one with Iris van Herpen and one with stereo high definition thermal photography with Philippe Baylaucq, a lovely filmmaker.
So first project just to surf through a bundle are devoted to geotextiles in the sense of a gentle expanded network that expands this as the surface of the earth and serve as a kind of a catchment scaffold for stereo organic growth in conditions of a hurricane and fog or Haystack Veil, done in the wonderful craft school in Maine in which Warren Seelig and I and a group of students generated this very simple, three dimensional lattice which we expand the surface of the earth and serve as a kind of a growth matrix for small animals and for turf, which was up for a few years.
In Endothelium, a small installation in Los Angeles, organic power was introduced, vinegar batteries made of vinegar with copper and aluminum electrodes, each little cell making a pathetically small amount of power. But by chaining them together, you could harvest enough using capacitors, using little circuits that would build up the voltage into elements that would be just enough to blink small elements, LEDs and cell phone vibrator motors. And then those were chained together in larger systems that served to make this into a kind of a mechanized turf that would slowly burrow into the ground.
More recently, the kind of symphonic orchestration of multiple systems was used in Venice really trying to make a kind of immersive environment that would filter air and work out rather emotionally in terms of having trails of response that would move around each of the people that would move through it. And that series was really rooted in the sense of textiles of really investing in resilient structures, in this case, using a tetrahedron fundamental kind of space packing system, of course, from nature.
And these chevrons clip together and make the dual of a tetrahedron. And so if you imagine them all clipping together using snap fit detailing, which is just achieved by very closely looking at the characteristic of the material, in this case, this is impact resistant acrylic, then we get a tremendously kind of resilient, efficient scaffolding system, which then can be worked together with other inclusions, such as multiplying and bifurcating to produce doubly warped surfaces in the hyperbolic geometries in order to make a very strong, resilient kind of scaffold system capable of taking great levels of perturbation.
Here you can see the unclothed systems of that kind of scaffold. And then it's clothed with a deep reticulum of the kind of vessels that I was speaking about earlier, which then have primary metabolic processes in them. And then it's actuated using mechanisms and bits of microprocessors in order to set up the responsive systems that I was speaking about.
Now the layering of that kind of system is put together in rather patient ways. That is we set up a hyperbolic mesh work that works as a waffle. It restrains and braces itself. And then we hang filters underneath that. And then we clothe it in the vessel works that carry the primary chemical processes. We use arrays of microprocessors and space sensors. We chain them up in a communication system so that the thing is working from part to part to part to part.
And then we deliberately put in a layer of additional material, which is tuned right to the very edge of its ability to stand and flex and move and hold so that elements become really charged and resonant and collect in the amounts of perturbation, which then are used to fuel the other processes of pumping and reinforcing the systems.
In most recent generations, we've been working to a kind of a saturation that really starts to approach the condition of being a soil, I hope. This is from Sybil in Sydney. And here you can see one of the most recent projects in which we've been moving in more robust kind of tectonics, that is aluminum and stainless steel mesh works, and also working with slitting and scoring patterns that allow us instead of having the kind of the rather daunting labor filled craft of assembling many, many increments allows us to expand quite freely and make the very, very most of sheet materials.
I mean, free form digitally addressed, expanded mesh is looking really, very tremendously promising as a robust building material. So we're hoping that this will be ready to go outside in the next year or so because of the strengths and the modest economy that we're now finding seems to equip it to-- it seems to qualify it to be a more public architecture.
And you can see the gentle metabolism of the filter hanging below in this glass reticulum and then this kind of quasiperiodic system of the hyperbolic mesh works above, which is quite an efficient kind of waffle system in which the surface is doubly curved and therefore supports itself. And it can take a great deal of weight and then concentrate onto single points. So the transfer between individual force concentrations and then a great distributed system produces a great resiliency.
In recent work, we have this very, very happy collaboration happening with Iris van Herpen-- and I'll just show you a couple of details from that-- in which the kind of gentle pumping systems that I was describing before in which filters are arranged as if they're like heart valves, that is, oriented systems that can gently take air through them, now is expanded into this kind of closely fitting body jacket.
And hopes are very high-- we're only scratching the surface with this first relatively ornamental series-- of something which can become much more resilient and layered in which the inner dress as well as the outer veil and active systems will be possible. So we'll see how that goes in this coming year. We're at rather early days in this. This was just presented a couple of weeks ago.
And within this forum, I guess I'm speaking, perhaps, a little defensively about its performance because I'm trying to justify it. But perhaps, I could just stare it in the face and say that the fiction of this kind of thing, the pure sense of an icon of a possible way of living and relating, is a real delight in its own right and is highly complementary to the search for function.
In a parallel collaboration with this wonderful Québécois filmmaker, Philippe Baylaucq, we're trying to work with expanded range thermal sensing. Now this is the film that got us together in which high definition stereo thermal photography is able to see the traces and the impacts of our own heat signatures in surrounding material.
It's still somewhat polarized in the sense that we look with tremendous intimacy at bodies. And we also look at traces. But the hunger is to try to get at the space in between. And by working perhaps with the theatrical implements of working with haze, for example, trying to make the air more tangible and hold heat and dressable, perhaps also with tracing pheromones.
We have that ambition. And Martin Hanczyc is helping us with entries into pheromone tracking, chemical noses. We hope to be able to set up a space in which intermediate boundaries can be more coherently worked with as well. We'll see how far we get materially. We may be working much more with synthesis and perhaps compositing virtual space to get together with physical space in presenting that as a first generation.
So I can wrap up by saying that I've tried to capture in this talk some personal practices which speak, perhaps rather acutely, about a way of standing and relating, which raise questions about who we are, which raise questions about an individual. Is this a boundary, which is a fundament? What kind of bundle exists in each of our bodies? What kind of identity and consciousness do we share? Is it possible to work with those kind of questions in a sense of accuracy and precision?
When I look inside my body and when I try to identify who I am, I find that I'm constantly coming up with bundles and different partial, very approximate senses. And perhaps some things that encourage this kind of question are bodily sensations, the kind of sensations that might come from the ganglia, the elbows, or from the sternum, or from the pineal, those kind of sparkles and curious kind of processing neural activities that speak of a much earlier limbic identity and perhaps speak also about the potential for a collective identity that can be very directly worked with.
Now I'm speaking impressionistically, but I do hope that by demonstrating some of the projects and by pointing to some brilliant people such as Michelle Addington and Donald Ingber and Martin Hanczyc that we can also start to work quite coherently with these dimensions as an explicit design space. So I hope those are a contribution to this discussion. Thank you.
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Philip Beesley, professor of architecture at the University of Waterloo, gives a presentation at the 2013 Hans and Roger Strauch Symposium on Sustainable Design, "Design for Biodiversity: Architectural Responses to Urban Ecology," February 2, 2013.
The symposium was organized jointly by the Cornell University Department of Architecture and the Oslo School of Architecture and Design Research Center for Architecture and Tectonics.