Architectural Intelligent Canopy by AA D_Lab + ShariShariShari @ Kinetica Art Fair 2012

Kinetica Museum has just presented its yearly exhibition of Kinetica Art Fair 2012 that took place at Ambika P3 last weekend (9-12 February 2012). This is a great opportunity for galleries, artists and research groups from all over the world to showcase their work in the fields of kinetics, robotics, new-media, art, science and technology.

Amongst them the Architectural Association Summer DLab (AA D_Lab) exhibited four models, ‘Living Cover’, ‘Skin’, ‘Hornet’ and ‘Echo’. In the same booth we also saw a fifth model by the designer association of ShariShariShari (based in the UK, China and Japan). All five samples were a sophisticated collaboration of design, architecture and technology. The groups showcased how architecture may constructively work and integrate with technological advancement. Design development and its innumerable applications have transformed architectural features into a medium that uses its own intelligence to react and interact according to the needs of the surrounding environment. By exploring the properties and capabilities of certain elements such as pressure, distance, sound and light, both associations demonstrated a whole range of possibilities that can be implemented and put into practice in larger scale; the combination of cutting edge software and hardware technology with academic research may lead to brand new territories and exciting developments.

Alexandros Kallegias (Director AA Athens Visitng School, Architectural Association School of Architecture in London who worked on this project with Kensuke Hotta, PhD student in Design) and Yosuke Komiyama of ShariShariShari talked to REVma -/+ about their exhibited work at Kinetica.

REVma -/+: When did you first conceive the concept of the Intelligent Canopy and how was this implemented through your collaboration with AA D_Lab?
A.K.: The making of an intelligent canopy, or a ‘Living Cover’ as it was named in the Architectural Association, was conceived during the workshop in London. During AA Dlab, the challenge was to provide with a structure which can shelter or protect from the elements. As the location was the open space of the school, the idea was to take into consideration the people who come there as well. So, we took the canopy -a fundamental architectural element- and evolve its form and function to not just be a static moment in time but to actively re-arrange its shape according to the elements but also the people around it.
Y.K.: In autumn 2010, we won a competition to design a tram station with the idea of the roof of modality. This was conceived as a result of various knowledge and interest from the members of ShariShariShari, who are from different backgrounds such as light construction, programmable architecture and information technology. In this proposal the station is designed as an open space covered with ephemeral roof consisting of tensegrity kinetic components. This roof will move kinetically with artificial muscle in response to environmental stimulus and modes of the space. This global and local deformation of geometry will keep changing environmental condition below the roof and afford activities. It will then form a self-organising feedback loop amongst environment – architecture – human presence. We exhibited our prototype model of the roof in the Kinetica Art Fair 2012 which deforms its shape where it senses light.

REVma -/+: Your exhibits at Kinetica demonstrated how “intelligent architecture” can behave and react towards the immediate surrounding environment. To what extent do you think architecture may become able to interact in a similar way but in a larger scale and how may stereotypical issues be overcome by means of technological advancement?
A.K.: The exhibited models at Kinetica were in fact smaller than the ones done at Dlab, because we had to accommodate ourselves with the limits of the given booth. In fact, the possibility of going larger in scale is already set as future goal. The concept of having an interactive system remains the same when you scale up. Nevertheless, there are many constrains which are parameters to be considered for the design of a big scale structure; issues of materiality, scaling loads and forces as well as active monitoring and servicing of the system become part of the design process and fabrication.
Y.K.: Since we won the first prize at the international competition, we have been analysing and experimenting the proposal from both hardware and software aspects in order to make sure it can be delivered once we had the “go ahead”. We were aware that there is a scale of factor challenges. For example the shape memory alloy we used as actuator this time has not yet been applied as building material, although we would like to investigate its properties further. It is not so simple to define what intelligence is. We used Arduino with light sensor to control the prototype model exhibited. Although the programme code we wrote this time was very simple, we found it hard to predict how the geometry of the canopy will behave as the kinetic fabric is a complex system. Introducing generative algorithm to generate some pattern through learning process may be a breakthrough to control the uncontrollable.

REVma -/+: Sound, light and movement are the ubiquitous key elements you have explored in conjunction with painstaking academic research in order to make your structures come alive. Is there a process of employing as well as applying certain technology to a pre-existing structural design, or do you achieve a dialogue between these characteristics right from the start?
A.K.: Although, for the work done in Dlab the concept began with having these parameters right from the start, the application of an interactive system like this can be applied in already built structures. Elements like movement or sound were always taken into account in buildings, we just need to adjust the design to fit any existing structure. Besides, as I mentioned earlier, these projects were also taking into account an existing building.
Y.K.: Norbert Wiener wrote his book ‘Cybernetics’ in 1948, which is the term used to convey the idea of comparing physical machines with biological organisms in regards to how their behaviour is controlled. In the 1970s, cybernetician Gordon Pask developed the ‘Conversation Theory’ and the ‘Interactions of Actors Theor’. He was a great influence on the field of computer architecture. A good example is the work of Nicholas Negroponte, whose earliest research efforts for the Architecture Machine Group were on ‘idiosyncratic systems’. After the invention of the computer, system theory and the complex system theory became describe-able by programming language and those grow up rapidly. In the 2000s, Michael Weinstack brought the knowledge of biology to architecture, not as an analogy but as a system. And MIT established research groups referring to architecture and robotic technology. After all, we are now exploring adaptive architecture with physical computing tools and higher intelligence in architecture.

REVma -/+: What were your expectations at Kinetica Art Fair 2012 and have these been achieved?
A.K.: The Kinetica Art Fair 2012 was a great experience for us. This event showed how much people are interested in having the relationship with the built environment which surrounds them, to be more interactive. The work attracted a lot of attention which drives us to come back again for the next exhibition and show more ideas on what is called social or participatory architecture where people becomes an active driving force in shaping their own environment.
Y.K.: It was our first time to exhibit our work in public. We were even offered an opportunity to give a presentation to the audience at the end of the fair and to show what we have been experimenting on and what could be the way forward. We are now interested in what would happen if architecture became an agent in the social system and how it would form a feedback loop to influence our life.