Form is a verb
Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc is credited with articulating the first coherent method for developing a design proposal for an architectural project based on careful analysis of the user’s or client’s requirements and activities.21 This step-by-step method for approaching the brief or program is set out in his Histoire d’une maison published in 1873. The founding premise is that the design of the project must be shaped by an engagement with the client’s needs through rational investigation and not shaped entirely by fanciful imaginings on the part of the architect. Once a program has been determined and reviewed a plan can be prepared in response. By this means the building is designed from the inside out. That is the volumes and arrangement have been driven by the articulation of a program. Structural and regulatory issues complete the formal arrangement. This notion of designing from the inside out has a long tradition in France and stands in opposition to the very formal, ordered geometric dictates of Italian Renaissance architecture typified by the work of Andrea Palladio and Leone Battista Alberti. While not articulated as a discrete program, the design of French châteaux and hôtels had evolved in lockstep with an evermore sophisticated social program. Rather than seeing architectural structure as a figure in a landscape as in the Italian Renaissance model, French architectural thinking was driven by a notion of the interior space as the figure with the building envelope as the ground.22
“In the last decades of the fourteenth century a new richness appeared, and along with it a new feeling for comfort and intimacy. A magnate as powerful as the Duc de Berry could indulge in this to the full, but the development was by no means confined to him. It was stimulated, perhaps, by the twenty years of virtual peace between the two halves of the Hundred Years War. Its most remarkable manifestation was the way in which the personal accommodation of great people became more elaborate. Monarchs, bishops and grands seigneurs set in train a development that then started to percolate down the social scale. This improved accommodation involved several rooms, collectively known as the ‘logis’ of whoever occupied them [their English equivalent was similarly known as ‘lodgings’]. A great person’s logis contained at least two chambres as well as a garderobe, generous provision of latrines, and sometimes a private oratory and a study, or ‘estude’.”23
Space is the figure
French social etiquette and a preoccupation with cultural forms saw French architecture respond to and evolve around well-defined programs, giving rise to complex and varied plan-forms and interior experiences. Modular clusters of rooms could be repeated in larger houses where accommodation for multiple parallel programs was required. In the early seventeenth century the ‘appartement’ arrived as a self-contained private accommodation module, whereby complex mini programs could be nested and repeated within a larger program.24 As French society found new forms of intellectual and social engagement, so new rooms and spaces appeared in response to developments in the art of conversation and the role of the hostess; the cabinet, the ruelle, the alcove [from the Spanish alcoba or alcova]. The size, separation and orientation or ordering of these rooms was dictated by the type of interaction desired, the group size and appropriate level of intimacy. The evolution of French fashionable society provided an engine for the development of French architectural planning. The design of private houses became the development of spatial sequences that supported, stimulated and inspired social interaction.
French architects dissected the social ecosystem of their society and responded with assigned spaces corresponding to these interaction states. The rooms and zones that arose were the salon, the oratory, logis, chambre ‘de parement’, the avante-cour, the basse-cour, salle cuisine, salon, library, chambre de parade, salle de compaigne and the salle a manger plus an elaborate assortment of technical and service support rooms. The linchpin was the grand staircase. Prior to this Chateaux consisted solely of a tower fortification, a chapel and a grande salle, which constituted the entry, eating and sleeping space. In the new chateaux the logis, or lodging rooms, a private suite of rooms, evolved to contain an outer chambre ‘de parement’, an inner chambre ‘de retrait’, a garderobe, latrine, cabinet, cabinette de toilet, boudoir, private oratory and study. The bed in the centre of the ‘parement’ was not for sleeping in. Beds were status symbols like Bentleys and Lamborghinis. They were there to look good. These space became reception rooms or ante-rooms, but retained their ambiguous status – a bedroom that is not a bedroom- by the retaining their ornamental beds.
By the 1600s the chambre and its appurtences were increasingly personalised, the provision of anti-chambres and galleries, the enrichment and increased importance of the cabinet were to be institutionalised in the apartment with its insinuation of separation and privacy. Each space was coded for a different degree of privacy and types of activity. The space between the bed and the wall in the cabinet even had a name; the ruelle, and it formed an inner more intimate space within the room. Later came the alcove, a room within a room, a small portion of the chambre divided of by an arch, an idea taken from Spanish architecture.
With the apartment came “new forms of social relationships and new types of individual sensibility. They wanted more than great dinners, dancing and story telling. They were developing the art of the conversation as the interaction of lively minds to develop their own intellects and imaginations.” These conversations could be wide-ranging, witty, political, lively and flirtatious. In the late Seventeenth Century French society developed the concept of the dinner party and the hostess, who could create and curate such a social life in her own home, and the idea of personal relationships which were more than just sexual, though sex could play a part. With the apartment the salon not the grand staircase became the linchpin of French life.
The apartment evolved into a two storey space with the double height salon or chambre-de parade, the larger social space leading out into the garden on the lower floor and the cabinet and chambre above. Finally social life had taken over from the centrality of the earlier eating rooms. Conversation, games, music and sumptuous dinner parties with carefully selected guests and a commanding view of the garden ruled. So much so that the word salon came to mean a social event as well as a room. “In the eighteenth century what came to be called a salon was called a ‘societe’, the custom of particular women being at home for their particular circle of friends on a particular day”.
In his book, Court and Garden, Michael Dennis argues that near the end of the seventeenth century with the designing of the Baroque Hôtel form French architects had established a very sophisticated vocabulary of planning; local symmetry, re-centering, figural space, architectural promenade, designed discontinuity and hierarchical levels of poché.25 [Poché – to blacken in (solid structural areas on a plan). This added to the reading of the plan. Thicker walls emphasised the presence of wider spaces requiring greater roof spans and support. ] Dennis argues that this sophisticated level of spatial strategising and programming underscored the approach of modernist architects like Le Corbusier, who talked about designing architecture from within and whose plans exhibit the benefits of being generated by an advanced engagement with program. This French model, while being driven by a formal sensibility derived from fashion and social conduct, was directed to creating an integrated environment that acted to facilitate and contain a process. The Hôtel developed as a new form as society opened up. The Hotel was a plan form arranged around an exterior court. It was produced from the residential square introduced from Italy and the Renaissance urban system of continuous building. This approach articulates space verses the modern system of articulated objects in a continuous landscape. The Hôtel was developed through the plan as the generator, derived from the French models of asymmetry, articulation, figural rooms, architectural promenade, hierarchical figure-ground relationships and poché. These all exploited the principle of discontinuity rather than the Palladian ideals of free standing unified symmetry. This turned it into a highly sophisticated instrument of urbanism. In the Renaissance, space was the medium of the age, the principal means of articulating a new view of the universe. Hôtels are urban party wall buildings. Hôtels can only be experienced sequentially, courtyard to courtyard to gallery etc. They generally avoid axial continuity. The plans generated fractures or non alignments to allow ‘re-centring’ at different stages of your journey to the next space, court or garden. This created a localising of your orientation often centred on an apartment.
The interest in residential squares saw an interest in public/private boundaries and exchanges. The square was a kind of cour d’honneur, an urban and social stabiliser, a great outdoor room; the community living room. The buildings formed by it are a kind of habitable poché. The space is the defining anchor and the figure.
L’art de la distribution is the functional arrangement of the spatial planning and generated more specific purpose rooms. French facades combine Italian Renaissance horizontality with Gothic verticality and have more widow area, indicating a greater interior presence and potential domestic freedom. The Rococo emphasised private life, intrigue and personal experience as the highest aims of life. By the reign of Louis 14th a complete revolution in social life occurred focused on interest in individuals, individual relationships, abstraction, empathy and conversation.
While the modernists, including Le Corbusier reverted to the anti-urban Italian ‘temple in the landscape model’, it was in the domino house frame that Le Corbusier began to return to the French themes of connected spaces, whose form was driven by occupation not the perspectival gaze. Le Corbusier refined this idea in the free plan, “The house could be like an automobile: a simple envelope containing the origins of a plan in a free state”. The plan can be in turmoil, in a state of turbulence. This was followed by the free façade, making it possible to directly relate and unify inside and out. In the free plan and facades the asymmetry and re-centring can be seen along with the rooms becoming areas with continually shifting relationships, like cubism’s fractured and partial images reassembled into new and ambivalent relationships. One of the great tragedies of the C20 has been the collapse of public space. We need architecture that makes public space as well as consuming it. In the pre-modern city space takes precedence over objects. Streets and squares are sacrosanct, a series of discrete rooms, articulated by thick, occupied walls. In many respects the later American land art movement captures an ‘urban’ social desire for a curated, intense, collective and dynamic space, a space that never featured in American architecture, with the exception of the loosely bounded college campus.
In his book Translations from Drawing to Building and Other Essays, Robin Evans examines the origins of a number of deeply institutionalised conventions in architecture and urban planning. He discusses the social rather than physical or logistical nature of their origins. These conventions are so central to most architectural thinking that they are never questioned or re-examined, like the idea of the corridor or the suburban home. These conventions turn out to be much more ephemeral than generally understood and often the product of social processes and thinking which have long since been sublimated within the convention and no longer able to be easily addressed. As an example, Evans identifies the corridor as first appearing in architecture in 1597 at Beaufort House in Chelsea, England, designed by John Thorpe.38 Entirely unlike colonnades, entry staircases, landings and other flow spaces, the corridor is a device for removing traffic from rooms. The logic of the corridor was to separate the inhabitants in terminal rooms allowing them the distinctly Enlightenment luxury of contemplation and developing an inner life rather than building their personalities through the endless chaotic social rough and tumble you would expect to experience in the interconnected matrix of an Italian Renaissance palazzo. The corridor was a product of the intellectual and social condition of the Enlightenment, not rational planning, structural or economic or even artistic considerations, according to Evans.
Evans applies a similar form of analysis to the evolution of the garden suburb, seeing it rooted in Victorian moral and ethical concerns and the emergence of socio-graphical mapping techniques. The suburb and the detached single family home are not ancient time-honoured archetypes, absolute and unchanging. They are in fact quite new and while highly desirable for all sorts of reasons, the notion that they represent an absolute formula for the design and urban planning of our housing and the welfare of our populous is ludicrous. The nineteenth century London rookeries and squalor of Victorian England provided the ammunition for a philanthropic and moral crusade to index moral degeneration, crime and poverty with urban population density, living conditions and living arrangements to reveal the intimate bond between urban density and moral degradation. These ideas fuelled a Victorian desire for change in domestic arrangements.
‘Where there are bad homes there are bad hearts and bad deeds …’
In the 1840s domestic architecture was for the first time deployed directly against the twin evils of vice and ill health in towns. Charles Booth’s Descriptive Maps of London of 1889, overlaying housing typologies and the relative degeneracy of the occupants amounted to the conception of a moral geography. ‘The layout of the house mapped out the moral condition of the family and the street layout mapped the moral condition of the community.’ Model house projects where developed to circumscribe the movements and intercourse between occupants to reform and improve their moral condition, creating a more isolated, insular domesticity. These created whole new housing typologies. Three became the magic number for the number of family bedrooms as it ensured the essential moral separation and secrecy. This fundamental logic was then extended to the street, ensuring appropriate separation between the houses and house and street, giving a moral structure to public space. From this logic the suburb emerges as a figure and ground composition where discrete, articulated building objects sit in a continuous landscape, a moral moat.39
Robin Evans’ critique suggests a way to change conventions. Since they are not set and wrought of an immutable logic they can be addressed and unpacked for discussion and possible change. What Evans’ approach implicitly suggests is that by a process of such an address, an arcane and disciplinary specific phenomenon like a corridor can become the subject of discussion centred on social processes and systems. He has rendered architectural conventions as social artefacts. Such a discourse can be applied to any design element of an architectural project, reviewed and, where it was useful, changed. By this technique changes can be instigated from discussion about the processes and any change will be preceded by an understanding on the part of the client stakeholders that they had participated in and ratified the reasoning behind the change. This provides a valuable platform for questioning existing structures and operational systems from individual user’s perspectives.
In the book, Your Private Sky, Richard Buckminster Fuller describes how the interaction of social convention and technological innovation can generate the possibility of change, driven by changed social processes. He recounts the condition of old mid-western American farm settlements. They consisted of many buildings, each with a specific function: barn, stables, corncribs, wet fermenting ensilage, woodshed, cold cellar etc. Each required elaborate and time-consuming maintenance. With the advent of efficient farm machinery in the early twentieth century, the American farmer
“finally had time enough before twilight to sit and look at the scenery and he built porches around his house. As he began to have more and more time, he began to put screens on the porches. With ever more time, he began to put glass windows on the porches. Sitting on his porches, he watched other people go by. Then came the automobile, which in effect put wheels under his glassed-in front porch, so instead of waiting to see people go by he drove down the street to see the people. In a very real sense the automobile was part of the house, broken off, like hydra cells going off on a life of their own. The young people who used to court in the parlour, then on the glassed-in front porch, now began to do their courting in the automobile, or the porch on wheels. Today the young people do their courting in their parlour on wheels, driving it to the drive-in theatre. Because we are conditioned to think of the house as static, we fail to realise that the automobile is as much a part of the house as is the addition of the woodshed.” 45
By this description the interior design and architecture are defined by the users’ patterns of behaviour, their rituals and social and technical processes. The architectural framing cannot be circumscribed by the activities of a particular discipline or the limits of a particular technological platform. The patterns of use can jump unpredictably from one technology platform or territory of a particular design discipline to any other. In engaging with designing for change this lack of a boundary for defining how an activity might evolve is a critical consideration. It reinforces the logic of a transdisciplinary approach and the very dynamic impact that a social model has on defining the practice of designing space. With the clarity of an historical observation it raises the intertwined and unstable character of the design problem that emerges when you frame architecture is an event.
Actor Network Theory or ANT. ANT was developed by John Law at Lancaster University42 and Bruno Latour at Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines in Paris.43 This model proposed a highly complex forensic model for social and technical processes. They argued that the key actors or drivers operating within any system could not be superficially determined. Often the most significant factor shaping a system could actually be one that is extraneous to the acknowledged model. The success of a biscuit factory might be its proximity to a river which creates the perfect humidity for crunchy but firm biscuits as they dry. The factory is moved to another location and every detail is replicated and yet the biscuits are no longer as good. Until someone detects the minute but profound significance of the river, which plays no obvious role in the factory’s operation, no amount of re-jigging the new production line will remedy the problem. Even the most extraneous information may hold vital clues as to how a system or network operates and how it will behave or how it might be possible to meaningfully change it for the better. For a social process the best strategy is to interview everybody, including the cleaners, and build up the richest picture of the relational dynamics at work. This idea is extended in the Social Construction of Technology model. This provides a way to view any project as a social construction, one that could be best understood by the relational dynamics of the actors. The social dynamic makes the system what it is. The physical space can reflect, assist or hinder the social dynamic but the principal weight of the system is in that social dynamic.44 This gives us a framework for abstract social systems that allows us to go about constructing models of them, to understand them, represent them, propose changes as new designs and then prototype these designs in a system and process-focused way. This gives us the structure to develop a social prototyping method suitable for applying to the design of architectural projects where innovation and change was required. Of key significance is the requirement to recognise, map and then to prototype social processes as well as technology innovations and that architecture can be modelled as a primarily social and event-based discipline. The design process itself is an actor, as is the technology, along with change and the idea of innovation.
As spatial designers we are set designers, orchestrators of rehearsals, dramaturgs and coaches. We write and study scripts. We assemble and advise ensembles of actors. We identify and shape roles. We build theatre sets for our clients to explore, role-play in and acquaint themselves with activities and technologies. The process is dramatic. This focus on the process of architectural design as one of engaging in shaping a dynamic or fluid social artefact. It raises the issue of how we perceive or understand the territory of interior design and architecture itself. The emerging physical characteristics are not so much formal, linguistic devices developed as static, absolute envelopes. They can evolve from the dynamic of the design process that develops around fabricating the new social artefact, the new system and the network of actors. Interior design and architecture are evolving as a container for the action. However, it is also an actor and it was not passive. At Crowd we are interested in new roles for architecture to inform or enhance the experience and performance of the constructed environment. My own conception about how architecture ought to perform or respond to the demands of the project and the user are primarily shaped by the work of the English architect Cedric Price and the Czechoslovakian sceneographer Joseph Svododa.
Gottfried Semper, the nineteenth-century German architect, and Marshall McLuhan, the twentieth century communication academic, both see architectural space as defined by an active envelope. They suggest that architecture’s principal significance is vested in the surfaces and they suggest a theoretical platform from which to explore and push for the introduction of new digital communication technologies into our design thinking. In The Medium is the Massage; Marshall McLuhan observes:
“Environments are not passive wrappings, but are, rather, active processes which are invisible.”03
McLuhan believed that the multiple and mobile vantage points from which we view our surroundings blinds us to their operative impact. He sees this as a consequence of our Renaissance-derived perspectival framing of relationships, one that backgrounds the more ubiquitous actors. Gottfried Semper, the German architect and art theoretician who had demonstrated the polychromatic nature of classical architecture in the 1830s, proposed that the art of building should be understood through the principle of clothing. He saw the meaning and significance of architecture as being bound up in its surface not its structure. For Semper the solid form in architecture acted as a support for the ornamental surface. He believed that the origins of architecture lay in the placement of the textile ornament followed by the development of the structure to support it. In Surface Consciousness, Mark Taylor observes:
“Locating architecture as a textile art in which seamed – together textile walls envelop and wrap to give spatial enclose, Semper suggests that architecture ‘turns out to be nothing more than texture’”.04
Such a model naturally engages with cultural and operative models of architecture where the building acts as a wrapper of the contained functions and events, but it is also inevitably an active part of those events. Its surfaces and presence are being read by the users as part of a total experience. The surfaces and surface treatments or articulations become central to the contribution of the building and of architecture. Semper’s model situates architecture in a dynamic cultural system, intertwined and dependant on many other cultural vectors. Its forms are bound up in complex conventions which it plays back as part of an active cultural process.05 This model places the focus on social processes and events, albeit invested in the fabric of the spatial envelope.
In 1993 Martin Pawley, the then editor of World Architecture, published an essay titled ‘Condition Zero’ by Nigel Gilbert in 1993. He framed the communicative potential of architecture from the perspective of contemporary information technology where information and experience are fused in a dynamic package.
“Using the language of IT, architecture can be redefined as a control system for our experience of the world, filtering out the unwelcome and celebrating the desired. Looked at this way, it is true that architecture has always been in the business of creating ‘realities’ for societies that are inherently ‘artificial’ – the transformation being effected via form as mass and structure.” 07
Gilbert sees that electronic media can effect many of the experience-shaping roles of traditional architecture. He identifies the power and pervasive expediency of communications technology as bringing an ‘ephemeralisation’ to the technology used for the shaping of experiences and definition of environments. Ephemeralisation was a term coined by Buckminster Fuller to describe the imperative of miniaturisation and enhanced performance that technological progress pursues, inevitably reducing the overall physical presence of any maturing technology. The augmentation of a material spatial infrastructure with a digital or communications-based technology is described as ‘augmented reality’ or ‘mixed reality’ in the emerging language of information technology. The increasing compactness and robustness of digital technologies is making it easier to blend these media into the fabrication of the physical environment. Much in the way that the solar-powered rear projection stained-glass window screens of Gothic cathedrals act as the information and content centrepieces of those spaces, so there is the potential for contemporary media to play a role in articulating the surfaces of our own architecture. Often cited contemporary examples of mixed reality environments are the busy intersections of some of the main roads in downtown Tokyo, such as the street crossing above Shibuya train station. Here every available building surface has been covered in very large format digital video screens. These are used mainly to play advertising content. Some are linked into the mobile phone network and can display content requested and even generated by passers-by in the street below.08 These are extraordinary but shambolic spaces without a specific design program other than the commercial pressure to exploit the most visible available advertising spaces. A mixed-reality environment sees information added from virtual communication networks to a physical environment. The user’s sense of presence is not transferred out of the physical space, unlike the experiences designed as virtual realities. Depending on the technologies used in a mixed reality environment the user may feel a greater sense of immersion or a sense of an extended field of action, with the provision of new tools to act on the space or with other users. Proponents of mixed-reality architecture believe that it presents very powerful and intuitive ways of navigating space and social networks describing them as furnishing space with data.09 The potential for these technologies to add to content, coherence, experience or richness to space has been a source of continual inspiration and interest for our practice as a technological approach to develop or design spaces in response to a program or script. The availability and capacity of these communication technologies to deliver content in a rich and carefully articulated way while being affordable is gradually growing.
Biology provides us with a powerful model to frame the spatial boundary or envelope with the idea of the exchange boundary. These are boundary conditions or membranes generated by organisms or insects seeking to extend their physiological condition. Extended organisms exert adaptive control over the flows of energy and matter across their physical boundaries. It is what the boundary does that makes the organism distinctive. It is not a thing. It is a process. An exchange boundary is actively permeable. In modifying its environment for adaptive properties, an organism confers a degree of ‘livingness’ to its apparently inanimate surroundings. Such animals have two physiologies: one internal and one external resulting in an adaptive modification of the environment. In earthworms for example, the result is the stimulation of growth in sediment, a form of gardening or ranching. As such extended organisms are producers as well as consumers, transforming their environments. The process is opportunistic as it replaces lengthy evolutionary ‘retooling’ with rapid co-opting of the surrounding environment to perform complex ‘organ-like’ behaviour. Such a model, like molecular biology, unifies living and inanimate worlds.
In the language of thermodynamics, enveloped by an exchange boundary, an organism is at the centre of a field of potential energy. Organisms are moments of lower entropy, constructing orderliness internally and disorder externally. Order and energy are stored internally. The structural attributes of a good exchange surface require a ratio of surface over thickness to be as large as possible, a fractal surface, like a fractal coastline, distending the membrane in both directions to enhance efficiency, like coral reefs. The boundary becomes an exchange amplifier. Earth worms exploit and amplify the redox potential gradient in undisturbed mud around them extending the rich Edaphic soil layer by changing the particle size and hydraulic capacity of the soil. By investing energy in building and ventilating a burrow the worm activates a much larger flow of energy. The burrow acts as a transistor based structure, as the worm activates a much larger energy flow and a metabolic rectifier that selectively impedes or allows a flow of oxidants and nutrients in one direction and preventing waste products from flowing back in the other way.
Similarly we can look at buildings as processes of exchange and flow. A building is a type of circuit, reorganising order, energy and climate along with social order. An internalised physiology has increased reliability and flexibility. What kind of organism might a building be? What is its ‘abstract’ organismal function, its role as an external organ for the users and then its own ‘externalisation – what does it exchange with the greater environment? How does it function? What does it produce? How can it be tuned to amplify its effectiveness and delivery.
At the 1970 Osaka Expo, the first Asian-hosted incarnation of a World’s Fair, Pepsi Cola funded an exhibition project entitled Pavilion. It was a space designed by artists, engineers and musicians to function as an experimental media-driven environment where each visitor could participate in creating their own unique experience. Conceived as a software-generated environment by the group Experiments in Art and Technology, or E.A.T., this project came very close to realising the performative potential of earlier conceptual projects like Cedric Price’s Fun Palace. Billy Klüver, the president of E.A.T. and the executive coordinator of the project, described it as a ‘living, responsive environment’.35 It represented a new form of theatre space which completely surrounded the audience. With Pepsi’s support, the project represented a unique opportunity for the funding of essentially experimental technological installations that were designed to create a unified, dynamic spatial experience for the visitor. Kenzo Tange and Arata Isozaki, principal architect and master planner respectively of the Osaka Expo, had set an agenda for the Expo that it should embrace a dynamic software focus rather than an exhibition of hardware, as all of the previous fairs had. They had been particularly struck by the multi-screen projection display of the Czechoslovakian pavilion at 1967 Montreal Expo, designed by Joseph Svoboda. Tange and his team had created, with their particular vision, the perfect environment for experimental and performative architecture. From the autonomous mobile floats and the optical laser systems to the exterior fog sculpture, the Pavilion project sought to marry emerging technologies with rich architectural experiences.
As a performative architectural space it was a dynamic, reconfigurable environment that could be controlled mechanically and digitally. The envelope, air quality, soundscape lighting and imagery were all programmable and ‘playable’ by the building designers and the building users. The initial concern of the artists who designed the Pavilion was that the quality of the experience of the visitor should include choice, responsibility, freedom and participation. The space was not didactic. The visitor was encouraged, as an individual, to explore the environment and compose his/her own experience through an engagement with new machines and new processes. It presents a change in attitude away from concern for the object towards human motivation and involvement, interest and excitement. The Pavilion was a living responsive environment, theatre conceived as a total instrument, using every available technology in which the accumulated experience of all of the programmers expanded and enriched the possibilities of the space. The software and behaviour was as important as the hardware.
As such Pavilion was an enabling space, a space of production as well as consumption for the users. Pavilion was conceived as a ‘world without boundaries.’ The idea was to move beyond the linear didactic control of traditional theatre, being told when and where to sit, what to do and see, instead to create an experience that the spectator actively participates in rather than being an audience. An environment where visitors create their own experience. The visitor becomes the show. Pavilion is non-static, ephemeral, emphasising the concrete reality of the here and now. Art is perceived as an active agent for social change. Pavilion moves beyond repeated predictable cycles of behaviour into an electronic state of flux, a fluid and protean shape shifting change, an environmental, performing instrument. Like jazz, it was very American, a specifically democratic interchange and improvisational conversation. It demands individual participation and thought.
Generally the exploration of these ideas remains in the laboratory or the art gallery, in the work of artists like Nam June Paik, James Turrell and Bruce Nauman and at research facilities like the MIT Media Lab. Here there is an emerging group of practitioners engaged in exploring the potential of this fusion for architectural practice. This work is being documented in a number of ‘weblogs’ or ‘blogs’. These include ‘Interactive Architecture Dot Org’, hosted by Ruairi Glynn37, currently studying at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London; ‘Media architecture’, hosted by Gernot Tscherteu38, a software interface designer based in Vienna, and ‘Urban Screens’ hosted by Mirjam Struppek39, an urbanist and researcher based in Berlin. Much of the work documented specifically explores the possibilities of interactive and performative technologies in creating spatial experiences. The work is of interest as it forms a platform for experimentation and investigation into the possibilities of creating technologically augmented spatial design solutions, driven by the significance of social processes and the opportunities emerging from communications-based technology. While this work informs a kind of strategy menu it is usually very simple at the level of the scripting or organisation of activities that constitute the aggregated experiences. In 2006 I went to see the as yet unfinished and un-opened land-art project Roden Crater by the artist James Turrell. Roden Crater is a cinder cone type of volcanic cone created from an extinct volcano, with a remaining interior volcanic crater. It is located northeast of the city of Flagstaff in northern Arizona, United States. The artist James Turrell, for his Land art project, acquired the 400,000-year-old, 4.8 km wide crater site. Since 1972 Turrell has been transforming the inner cone of the crater into a massive naked-eye observatory, designed specifically for the viewing and experiencing sky-light, solar, and celestial phenomena. It was due to open this year.
In many ways Roden Crater may be seen in the tradition of many archaeo-astronomical sites, such as El Karnak in Egypt. “Turrell not only wants to direct people’s attention to the sky, but also allow them to ‘see their own seeing’, as ‘active’, not ‘passive’ observers. Turrell says “When you are there, it has visions, qualities and a universe of possibilities”. The space acts as a kind of gigantic astronomic camera bringing the complex cosmic ecology into an intimate space of human space of habitation.
More recently this challenge has been taken up by Expo 02. In 2002 I visited the Swiss National Exhibition Expo 02, a nationally focused celebration of Swiss industry, creativity and culture. The exhibition appeared to have modelled itself on the 1970 Osaka Expo, with a strong focus on experimentation and the design of unique experiences rather than elaborate corporate messages. International architects including Diller and Scofidio, Jean Nouvel and Coop Himmelb(l)au participated, creating appealing if somewhat less radical architectural experiences. Diller and Scofidio’s ‘Blur’ installation even had Fujiko Nakaya, the fog artist on the 1970 Pavilion project, acting as a consultant. The Expo felt like a vast laboratory for technological and spatial exploration. It convinced me of the impact and value of large-scale experimental and dynamic immersive environments. The fusion of digital media and expressive physical envelopes created a sense of great dramatic moment and the enormous possibilities available for the creation of innovative and rich architectural experiences. The scale of the Expo meant that the visitor could escape into entire urban landscapes of these ideas. An extensive account of the temporary exhibition has been published by Birkhäuser.36
Blur, the installation by Diller and Scofidio, was originally intended to be a media pavilion, to foreground relational interaction between the visitors walking in a dynamic, ephemeral, technologically enhanced field. A large media panorama was to be situated in a room floating in a cloud of mist above a lake. Interestingly this panorama installation eventually appeared in another installation, inside a gigantic rust steel cube, floating on another lake, designed by Jean Nouvel. In the Blur installation visitors were to be encouraged to interact by using their individual interest profiles that were broadcast from personally programmed IR beacon badges. These were to be designed and fabricated by IDEO. The interior spatial experience was intended to reveal and amplify the potential relational ecology of occupation of the space.
To conclude, in architectural and design practice, we are writing scripts. The spaces and spatial experiences we design act as the sets within which these scripts are addressed. This calls into play the idea of the role of the designer as a dramaturg.40 The dramaturg, working on the dramatic script, acts as a critic, analyst, interpreter and advocate, researching the origins and relevance of the work and possible approaches to it. Within theatre practice the dramaturg’s domain can extend to addressing an institution, analysing and organising its goals and vision. In framing the architectural domain as one critically engaged in constructing a social artefact it seems that the theatre has created a relationship between experiencing an event and critically analysing the designing of that experience, the scripting and the ideas underlying the event. As such the dramaturg can be thought of as the curator of an ecology of occupation, defining or refining roles, processes and experience.
This idea of analysis seems to anchor the role of the dramaturg, but the dramaturg, like a contemporary researcher or analyst, critiques projects rather than designs them. It seems to me that the role of the architect cast by Viollet-le-duc as an analytic investigator of the needs of his client’s and their project’s has great similarities with the role of the dramaturg. This role identifies the importance of design as the process that sculpts the resulting ecology of occupation and the performance of the users and the space in reaction to each other, but also one that can be continually evaluated in relation the reading or translation that it brings to the ‘source material’. Finally the FORM IS A VERB.