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Article, Editorial, Volume #27

Fight and Accept

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When the credit crisis struck, the general response was one of sheer amazement. Fascinating to see billions and trillions of dollars evaporate at such speed. Despite experts´ warnings that things would never be the same, expectation in general was that normality would be restored soon. In our spectacle society we are used to the excitement of sudden change. We respond to these events like we’re watching a magician.

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Article, Volume #24

Material Change

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George Elvin interviewed by Julianne Gola and Cameron Robertson.

Advocating the dynamism of nanotechnology and architecture, George Elvin contends that with the embrace of nanotechnologies, the field of architecture will no longer be based on static objects; rather, it will react or mutate according to environmental variables. The author of Integrated Practice in Architecture: Mastering Design-Build, Fast-Track, and Building Information Modeling (Wiley, 2007), Elvin speaks with Volume about the ethical and social implications of a spatial reality dictated by sensorial information.

Julianne Gola: Can you briefly describe nanotechnology and what you see as its consequences for architecture?
George Elvin: Nanotechnology is the manipulation of matter at the molecular scale. The field is introducing a new breed of materials that are designed from the bottom up. Material engineers can start by asking, ‘what kind of material do we want? What do we want it to do?’ And then they are actually able to fabricate those new materials. So, for example, people can ask, ‘wouldn’t it be great to have a material that was many times stronger than steel but lighter and transparent?’ An architect could make a building supported by something that looks like glass with nano-composite plastics, for example. Eventually, in the long run, you could have materials that would seem to disappear.

Cameron Robertson: How pervasive are nanotechnologies in architecture today?
GE: There are already over 200 building products that incorporate nano-particles or nanotechnology. The two largest solar cell producers in the world print their cells using nanotechnology. There is a long list of nanotechnologies with considerable green or ‘de-polluting’ potential. For example, the precast panels in the façade of Richard Meier’s church in Rome are coated in nano-materials that, through photocatalysis, break down large amounts of atmospheric pollutants into benign elements on contact.

JG: In other words, nano-materials are responsive. Can you elaborate on their dynamic properties?
GE: We think of architects as makers of static objects – sculptural things that you create and then walk away from. When you start designing with the nano-materials that we will have available in, say, ten or twenty years, architects will be initiators of a dynamic process. You’ve even got things that show the changing state of what we typically consider static materials. In fact, to so they incorporate organic substances – literally living materials. There are bio-hybrid products such as protein-based biosensors that luminesce when stressed. Already, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco uses sensors to detect movement as an early warning system for earthquakes. You could have concrete beams in a building that glow when stressed.

JG: So nanotechnology offers functionality that exceeds what the public currently expects of architecture. What do you believe are ways to represent this?
GE: We’ve got to make 4D modeling – 3D plus time – really pervasive, because, frankly, nanotech demands it. We’re talking about a technology that allows whole interior and exterior environments to be programmable and continuously variable. We will have to express buildings as networks of intercommunicating intelligent materials, objects and systems. To talk about adequately representing that kind of thing with static media is just crazy.
CR: In addition to the representation of this emerging technology, there are questions of public reception and acceptance. How do you think it will change our daily experience of the built environment as its deployed?
GE: With the properties of carbon nano-tubes, for example, you could make a chair supported by legs almost the diameter of a needle. But would people really be comfortable sitting in it? In the same way, on the architectural scale, it will be possible to do away with the distinction between structure and skin, a standby not only of construction, but also perception. Would people be perceptually comfortable in that space? There is going to be a lag between material developments and people’s comfort level. The same thing happened when steel columns first came out. In Maison Domino, for example, people weren’t entirely comfortable standing under a concrete slab supported by just a few steel columns. It should also be acknowledged that consumers are apprehensive about nanotechnology. So while companies are very happy to use nanotechnology to improve the performance of their product, they don’t necessarily want the ‘nano’ name on them, because of concerns that if something went wrong, it would backfire in terms of public comfort with the idea of nanotechnology.
CR: You’ve focused much of your career on broadcasting the potentials of nanotechnology for sustainable design. Do you see nanotechnology as being inherently sustainable?
GE: Well, many believe that the responsible use of technology can get us out of the mess we got ourselves into through the irresponsible use of technology. Right now, because nano is a new and very powerful technology, we don’t know its impact on human health or the environment. There are concerns about bioaccumulation. For example, Samsung makes a washing machine that injects silver nano-particles into your wash. Even though it is a minuscule amount, silver is a heavy metal. So there is reason to be concerned about its accumulation over time in the body and the environment. Of course buildings would be a primary source of nano-particle pollution, as they wash off buildings into the larger environment. So we have to consider the large-scale effects.

JG: How might nanotechnology affect the urban scale and what is its capacity to change or manipulate the nature of public space?
GE: One thing this brings up, particularly in the case of sensor technology, is privacy. As we get further along in our ability to control matter and materials, objects become more malleable and responsive. As people want more intelligent and interactive environments, this implies a give and take of information. With what they call ‘push technology’ in Japan, for example, your cell phone will ring as you’re walking past the Gap, telling you that the jeans you bought last week are now on sale. Or consider the University of Illinois Computer Science building: when a faculty member swipes his card to enter into the building, the lights and heat in his office kick on. Nanotechnology would amplify that kind of intelligence, and you would get a much more personalized environment. We’re talking about buildings and urban environments that are much more dynamic and changing. On the one hand, it has the potential to put people more in touch with their environment. But if all of these sensors are communicating with each other, the environment, and users, then an important question is: who controls this information? Who has access to it?

This article is published as online part of ‘Volume #24: Counterculture’.

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Article, Volume #18

Untying Cradle to Cradle

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Is C2C really the concept to successfully balance ecology and economy? Although it promises to do away with the problem of scarcity, one likely consequence is a severe restriction of the use of raw materials, as well as of the knowledge necessary to make C2C work. For these reasons an open source approach to ecology is urgently needed.

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Article, Volume #18

Metropolitan Agriculture and Global Food Problems

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Steef Buijs’ training as an urban planner was back in the sixties, so world food problems were not part of his original ‘mindset’ as a planning professional. During his work however he encountered these problems increasingly often and achieved growing insight into how these relate to urban development all over the world. What follows is an account of these experiences, resulting in his present view on how ongoing urbanization might help solve the food crisis.

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Article, Volume #18

Counter-Histories of Sustainability

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Every socio-political movement needs a history, even if you have to invent one. Panayiota Pyla drafts some possible (pre)histories of sustainability and compares them with current developments. She warns for simple historical legitimizations and proposes to constantly interrogate and contest emerging strategies.

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Article, Volume #18

Editorial: After Zero

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From the moment sometime at the end of the seventies or the beginning of the eighties that progressive appeared to be conservative and vice versa for designers there appeared to be little more to do than base one’s work on individual taste. Tackling modernism as the dominant paradigm was old news, although some architects continued to indicate their infatuation with it. The rest is history.

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Article, Volume #14

Design New Futures!

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How do architects retake ground, how do they develop a new method? Shamiyeh addresses these questions in detail, explaining a practice of searching for emergent opportunities by relating science theory to business and management structures. He argues that creative decision making and problem solving are fields in which architectural knowledge is more needed than ever before.

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Article, Volume #14

Out Now: Volume #14

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In order to actively grapple with the challenges of our age, architects have to transform themselves from extremely competent executors of assignments into entrepreneurs and producers. This issue of Volume discusses essential tools to reclaim professional autonomy.

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Article, Volume #5

The Rise and Fall of Superdutch

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Since the dawn of the people’s capitalism, where just about everyone is tied to the ups and downs of the stock market, the concept of the bursting bubble and rapid plume of shares attaining ‘a more realistic level’ has become a wide-spread cultural theme. Not just in financial markets, but in many social domains, we see how certain concepts, brands, and personalities are overvalued or promoted and how, as a consequence, counter-forces oblige them to make a reality check. Hype dies, the public gets distracted, and those who were only recently the center of attention are forgotten for the next big thing.

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Article, Volume #6

Neo-Money

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An unspoken revolution is occurring in architecture; a change that is slowly, sub-structurally altering the profession, from what we do, to how we do it and what we are being asked to deliver.

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Article, Volume #6

Desperate Decadence

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Cities arise because of people’s basic need to live and work near one another. The city offers freedom, anonymity, trade, economy of scale, an immediately accessible consumers’ market, work potential – a swarming brew of ideas and innovation that fulfill man’s social, psychological, and economic needs. The city is the motor of progress.

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Article, Volume #2

Towards a History of Quantity

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Not having enough to do, architects often do too much. Devoted with masochistic fervor to a profession whose expertise is routinely ignored, they treat each project as if it might be their last, turning it into an ark loaded with their best ideas compacted into an intense display of effects.

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Article, Volume #2

Borrowed Scenery: In the Footsteps of Laurie Anderson

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At the most abstract level, the task for the artist and for the architect is essentially the same: to specify a frame. The artist’s frame may be entirely concrete or entirely abstract – from an ornately gilded rectangle to a spoken instruction – but always acts to define its contents as being artworks, whether they are newly created or nothing but found objects.

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Archis 1993 #9, Article

De zwaarte van de stenen: Over architectuurfotograaf Jens Lindhe / The heavy presence of the stones: The architectural photographer Jens Lindhe

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The slide showed one of the portals of C.F. Hansen’s Courthouse in Copenhagen, one of the major works of Danish neo-classicism. The technical quality of the slide was perfect and we came to the conclusion that its quality as a photograph was pretty good too.Some time later we needed a photograph for an article about […]

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Archis 1993 #4, Article

Oscillatie tussen materie en concept: De architectuur van Patrick Berger (Oscillation between material and concept: The architecture of Patrick Berger)

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Indeed, Berger had built very little when, in 1988, he won the international competition for the park. His Parisian production was limited to a handful of discreet buildings, the kind of which are too  delicate to please the media or to fill the front page of an architectural magazine. Discreet also is the architect – […]

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Archis 1993 #3, Article

Alexander Bodon (1906-1993)

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Bodon was born in Hungary. His father was an interior designer and cabinet-maker who worked in Jugendstil and was influenced by the Viennese Secession. At the age of thirteen Bodon spent some time in the Netherlands and by chance was introduced to humanist circles where he met Jan Wils. When in 1926 Bodon had to […]

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Archis 1993 #2, Article

Onze negentiende eeuw: Visies op de Nederlandse neogotiek (Our nineteenth century: Views on Dutch Gothic revival architecture)

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If there are any post-modern architects in the Netherlands, then their country’s nineteenth-century architectural heritage seems to have passed them by. It was the art historians who were interested in and theorized about the Gothic Revival, a movement especially suited to their historical constructions and their desire to link the past to the present with […]

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Archis 1993 #1, Article

Papegaai in bodystocking (A parrot in a body stocking)

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The decision of the editorial staff to publish a bilingual Archis beginning in 1993 demanded a new outlook for the word-picture  relationship. Because the amount of text is now double, and visual images are the same in every language, an unbalanced relationship could result. Every possibility has been studied in order to find a balance between `the respect for the text’ and `the autonomy of the image’.

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