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Progress beyond the state of the art
Patrik Schumacher 2004
Published In: Architettura Magazine
The exhibition “AAproject review”, organized by the Architectural Association School of Architecture is a kind of starting point to begin a tour through an emerging architectural debate, exploring a new research field, where a different architecture might soon take form. We are looking at a territory where art, architecture, technology, and science merge to find a new avenue of research. Patrik Schumacher, partner of Zaha Hadid, teaching at the AADRL post graduate course, speaks about these new domains of architecture which represent a tough challenge for the architectural world of tomorrow, explaining his point of view and the variety of approaches taken by his students.
Q : “AAProject review” is the name of the exhibition being organized by the Architectural Association. It represents one of the London’s must-see cultural events, attracting visitors from around the world. It’s a time when the AAschool opens its doors to the wider community, challenging perception and encouraging debate on the role of the architect and the discipline of architecture, now and in the future, locally, and globally. What is your opinion about the exhibition as a manifestation of current thinking and production?
I think that the Project review at the AA is not aimed at the general public or any kind of cultural tourism. It is an event internal to the discipline or profession, and, curiously, an event with particular importance to the internal communication of the school itself, i.e. a mirror which the school puts up for itself so that the different units - which during the year develop autonomously without much contact – can appreciate each other’s work. But of course the architectural profession, and the different architecture schools in London make up the larger part of the audience and if there is a sort of cultural tourist to be considered it is a group of keen architectural students and young architects coming from abroad to London to witness the exhibition. In particular it is the ex-students that want to see the new generation work and who would like to keep in touch and update themselves with respect to the latest obsessions circulating in the school. In fact the school is moving very fast so that it is necessary to come every year to keep up with its pace of development. In general it is important to understand that there is an internal discourse of the architectural discipline and profession which does not make a lot of sense to the general public. Why should the general public be confronted with design processes, abstract concepts or unfinished experiments? These issues only concern the community of designers themselves.
Q: The AA is a school where new ideas germinate and are expressed. The exhibition of projects shows this vitality. Can we consider this production as a “new architectural avant-garde”? How could you describe the concept of progress in architecture, today?
Since the discipline of architecture has no dedicated research institutions and no research funding, it is the educational institutions on the one hand and the avant-garde segment of the profession on the other hand that take on the function of research and innovation, which in other disciplines is pursuit by dedicated research institutions. The private manufacturing sector has developed large corporations that can afford to establish dedicated R&D departments. Medicine is supported by publicly funded research institutes operating within the University system. In the architectural world there is neither private nor public funding for research. Schools like the AA, and in particular the post-graduate courses and the diploma courses , play a crucial role in a process of research and innovation. And the work as well as the human resources feed directly into the avant-garde segment of the profession. This phenomenon involves a small number of high profile schools in the architectural world, and the AAschool is certainly operating in the forefront of the international avant-garde discourse. This research is conducted by both teachers and students. The teachers, who are located at the school, collaborate with the students, leading the student’s work to participate in this sort of research. The design work is not primarily understood as a kind of training, that attempts to teach a kind of standard or state of the art competency. The work is all about progress beyond the state of the art via experimentation whereby the results are opening up new agendas rather than offering finished products. At the same time, the work can not be measured by a consistent standard.
Q: In the context of AA, how does the variety of methods and approaches operate with respect to imagining and creating better alternatives to what already exists.Patrik Schumacher:
Q: What should the visitor perceive moving through this aesthetic experience of the exhibition? Is it more art or architecture? Is it implying an utopian or radical vision of the society?...or a new way to describe different concepts of architectural space … or a futuristic way to live?
Q: Your students have investigated the concept of “responsive environment” trying to make an original contribution to this new and complex field. But what really does it mean within the architectural debate? What is your approach to the concept?Patrik Schumacher:
Q: The DRL research tries to investigate how to genuinely evolve rather than design, a new kind of ambient, and immersive architecture. Using advanced software tools it is able to create, control and shape a new concept of space, where the dynamic of the people-flows and its self-organising reconfigurations are reflected in the scripted responses of a kinetically adaptive space. There is this new capacity to design spaces that actively engage with their users to create complex behavioural systems. What do you think about it?
I think at the Design Research Lab we are trying to develop these new behavioural capacities, as we said earlier, which have previously been explored in art. We are also trying to bring in ideas from robotics and bio-mimetics. We are opening up this new technological paradigm for the new opportunity to design a social space as a living interactive space, on an urban scale, or on the scale of a building, or on the scale of a room or interface. The task is very ambitious. The difficulty is that it requires a whole series of advanced disciplines and technical capacities. As a school we can not buy the necessary expertise in the form of specialist consultants. Instead we have to develop our own skill base from within our pool of students. We create teams which within themselves should diversifies to various kind of expertises. We need form makers and we need to develop structures, we need to develop kinetic mechanisms and we also we need students who have analytical capacities and finally those who are able to acquire some basic understanding of computer programming. And also we need some groups of students which have a developed social imagination and can move into the observation, analysis and simulation of collective human behaviour. This involves a kind of definition of behavioural patterns that lead to the programming of agents are able to self-organize into life-like patterns. Such simulated behaviors can then be compared with observed patterns found in public spaces, perhaps video recorded by the students. The patterns of movement in public spaces are to be observed, and their social logic has to be understood and reconstructed via programmed agents. We take this as a design domain sui generis. This is part of the expanded paradigm of architectural design we are promoting. We are no longer just designing the empty shell but we are also conceiving the kind of choreography of use-patterns that unfolds within and in interaction with our structures. This is a rather new exciting departure for architecture. The desire to do this was always there. Architectures ultimate ambition was always about designing the social life by means of designing its container. Now we have the capacity to simulate such behaviours within their designed environments. This is an enormous leap in our design capacity afforded by the software tools like 3ds max or Maya - enhanced by various plug-ins. Those tools were initially developed for the film industry. Now these animation tools allow us to design interactive and self-organising scenarios.
Q: At the AA exhibition ,the DRL presents its designs using various sensor as well as actuator technologies linked by computer that simultaneously respond to the spatial organization of the visitors. At the same time, robotic prototypes show ever more advanced forms of artificial intelligence and kinetic capacities. And also the current research is focused to develop tools to design and simulate responsive systems of dynamic interaction involving techniques like scripting, force-fields, inverse kinematics etc. Which new domains, in your opinion, is this research opening ?
The kind of animation software we are using, is opening not only new technical options but also a whole new way of thinking. We are modelling artificial worlds with their own peculiar laws of quasi-nature. It is really like creating a little universe whereby every object or element can be interactively related to any the other object or element. Properties and relations of elements within an artificial world can be scripted into functions, chain reactions and complex networks of interaction. It is like writing the laws of an artificial universe. So you can make a whole system of lawful correlations and let them run through everchanging scenarios. That is a fascinating new departure. The advancement of software tools means that the learning curve to create such a world is made user friendly to the point that the specialist computer programmer is no longer necessary. The creative designer can create these fascinating interactive worlds. These are worlds that first of all exist in the computer, but they can be implemented in the real world as sensors, actuators and chips become ever more available. And this implementation of responsive models is another big step we are currently working towards – first in the form of scaled models. We are creating models which are activated by pneumatic muscles and which are wired up with a series of sensors to really create the first kind of prototype of an responsive environment. We presented three such models for the exhibition “Latent Utopia” which I curated for a performing arts festival in Graz last year. The AADRL students where exhibiting among an illustrous series of international avant-garde architects . We were showing the same kinetic prototypes at the AA exhibition this year. These models are not just fascinating gadgets but they are embetted within a larger project which is discussed with respect to its social significance and aesthetic implications.
Q: You said :”Any parameter of any object might be dynamically correlated with any parameter of any other object within the model”. This means that the designer has the freedom and the power to craft artificial worlds, each with their peculiar “laws of nature”. Is that the key to reading these new responsive spaces? Have we arrived at what could be called a mutation stage?Patrik Schumacher:
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