Wednesday, January 20, 2010

AVATAR & DESIGNING FROM WITHIN



I am so excited I can barely contain myself...although my mother always taught me to be gracious in both triumph and defeat... but I can't help myself..." I TOLD YOU SO ...I told you so...."

It was just over three years ago now I delivered a lecture to a room of disbelievers and "nah sayers", otherwise known as "too big for their britchers" final year architecture students...

The topic was based around my thesis research and much of the research and reading I had done since graduating in 2001 - My interest lay in how computer technologies were impacting architecture, I had used Gehry, Ito & Lynn as my guinee pigs demonstrating that technology was different things to different people, an inspiration, a liberator and even a generator of design...

Further to this I realized as technology advanced we would need to be skilled with the right understanding and information to both make sense as well as validating our existance as Architects, competing with other designers, ourselves & possibly even Artificial Intelligence to maintain our position in the
construction and design industries.

I tried to inspire the students with images from "Minority Report" and augmented reality research happening in South Australia at the time, and how what was at the time impossible was going to be in no time at all the norm...and were they ready for it...?

- Well they became entwined in the gadgetry imagery...and lost all perspective...- Making me inturn frustrated at their short sightedness....- and to be truthful doubting myself - maybe I had my head in the clouds...none of this was real ...not in our life time...- right?......WRONG.!!!




Please all stand and sing the praises of MR JAMES CAMERON....for he has just changed the world we live in forever...- It may just seem like smoke mirrors and some very good parlour tricks but the truth is the technology that has been developed to create the AVATAR masterpiece...will in turn, turn our world inside out... (Much more than Lucas - if you ever read this Mr Cameron)

One of Cameron's major advancements for AVATAR was the creation of a virtual monitor, which allows the director to see the motion capture results in real-time, as they were filmed, instead of waiting for the computer to render the images. Viewing instead of a blue screen which exists in the real the completely virtual forest backdrop as if it where there on set with the actors...allowing him to move the monitor in any direction to experience and see the 3D modelled virtual environment with the actors & their avatars (pardon the pun) superimposed in real time - no delay(- Imagine standing on site with something similar and holding it up to the sky seeing the ceiling detail in your latest design the lighting layout and maybe the way the sun and breezes were interacting with your completely virtual design....- just the thought gives me goose bumps...)




What is real will become virtual, what is virtual will become so real the differences will be hard to find...
The virtual will give the real a run for its money and it won't be long.... But as I did back when I gave my lecture...I ask the question - ARE ARCHITECTS READY?...I think not....

Below I have included my lecture....
Please take the time to read - I would love to hear your feedback...


DESIGNING FROM WITHIN


I have divided this discussion into 3 segments,

1. RESEARCH

The major segment relates to the research I completed as part of my thesis

It was influenced by Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao which was completed early in my studies, It was so different , striking and in contrast with anything that I had seen before, so I had wondered what had come first the chicken or the egg… Had the idea been dormant until the technology enabled its manufacture, or had architects been released from the confines of rigid thinking to create a new visual styling.

As part of this research it became evident the delayed impact on architecture, and how not only did it take sometimes years for technology to disseminate down to the realms of lowly poor architecture, but that it also took years sometimes decades for the same technology or approaches/ reactions to technology to migrate across the globe to Australia, even in what is suppose to be a new fast paced society of high speed communication.


2. MARKETABILITY,

This is as a response to the challenge to the architects act I believe in… 2002?…

I have found it very hard to substantiate the architects position, being known as “the jack of all trades and the master of none” and as the one profession that straddles the line between art and science…our skill base and areas of unique knowledge are very blurry, especially with the diversification of our profession to other job titles.. such as project manager, interior designer, façade designer…


3. The SMART SPACE

This concept relates to a quality of design, that I believe very hard to put a finger on, almost a gut reaction, about what would be right/wrong, or appropriate in certain setting or for a client… as aspect of design it is no doubt informed better over time, but never the less it is an instinct that each of us needs to cultivate. During all my years of study, particular the later, I was told NEVER to substantiate a design by “because I like it”, I thought this meant removing myself from the process of design and informing a project with factual information, such as solar studies, movement paths, area planning … and all those key words and diagrams… however it wasn’t until I attended the Murcutt master class in 2002 and was mentored by Richard Leplastier, that I realized a space could inform. We were told sitting in a field, or on our site for hours on end, coming to terms with the space, wasn’t wrong, it was the right approach. However we reacted to the environment, whatever we FELT was what we should design with that as our inspiration…it was about our senses and how we reacted, and how that made us feel.


It is for these reasons I have titled this discussion/ talk “designing from within”

DESIGNING FROM WITHIN THE VIRTUAL REALM,

DESIGNING FROM WITHIN THE ARCHITECTURE – being inside the building as it grows around you made possible as a result of continuing advancements in the software, hardware and interface technologies.

DESIGNING FROM WITHIN OURSELVES, drawing on our psyche to inform spaces, in an attempt to create smart spaces suited to their function.


I believe that architecture will have the opportunity to justify its existence as a profession through the advancements in computer technologies, but only if we arm ourselves with the right tools in anticipation.


These new technologies are allowing us the paradigm shift, to the virtual, a world of 3dimensions but with none of the other real world qualities….


the ability to visualize not only from the god like aspect, as the bird flies, but to walk around our design as we would when they are built …and with new advancements in virtual reality and augmented reality interfaces


Internet pages will be internet spaces… interfaces will allow for interaction and feedback…sensors will provide a sense of touch…maybe even smell

These internet spaces will be the architecture of a new era, where a new generation will spend a great deal of their work and play … - work place health and safety and where market edge will make or break a retailer, those who not only have the technical ability to create these spaces but the unique knowledge to make them smart spaces / healthy spaces …will be essential…DR SPACE…


In this first segment, the major segment, it is based on extracts from my original thesis; I have tried to update my research for the purposes of this discussion with recent quotes and examples to provide a more current discussion


What I will cover is not so much the technologies nor the resultant architecture but more so the impact it has had on the process of Design and how different architects have responded to the digital era.

1. RESEARCH


If we are to look at the timeline of modern technology, it is hard not to be astounded by the speed at which we have advanced;

During the past 2 centuries society has seen a barrage of outstanding advancements in the field of technology. These advancements have come about mostly as a result of the research and money funneled into the world’s defense forces, in an aim to give each that winning edge.

Machines were the main advancement in technology and lifestyle in the late part of the nineteenth centaury, with the introduction of the automobile and the aircraft, revolutionizing transportation, communication and people’s interaction with others.

In comparison the machine of the late twentieth centaury, the computer has been the driving force behind the re-examination of the way we live, it like its counterpart has impacted on communication and people’s interaction, but also increasing the speed at which society functions and the increased value put on up to date current information.


Just consider it was only 130 years ago that the telephone was patented. Since then we have seen the introduction of wireless, the domestic computer, email, mobile phones, internet, CD technology, and in the last 10 years alone, DVD technology, palm personal digital assistants, and over 100,000,000 internet hosts, that’s hosts not users, and for most of us it is impossible to imagine our lives without any of these.


These technologies have been born in the industries like aerospace, medical, automotive, and information technology, where there exists both funding and the quantity of production to support the research. But is only over time that we seen some of these technologies impact architecture, directly, through the implementation of visualization programs to better inform the designer, or indirectly through the impact these technologies have had on the broader society and the resultant cultural adaptation. For example the introduction of the internet into western societies everyday lives, has provided access to information from any part of the world at any time of the day or night, decreasing the perceived distances and merging both space and time paradigms.


However those who are at the forefront of the utilization of these technologies are the students and the technicians, who lack both the construction knowledge and the design experience. But it is as a result of their reduced construction knowledge and understanding of historical order that the restraints and rules of past architectures have had little weight on the aesthetics of their designs, and the their experimental attitude toward the new technologies that have freed the profession from the previous eras modernistic principles, and minimalist aesthetics. As a result the architecture of the digital era is daring, continually pushing the boundaries, each new technological advancement creating an aesthetic less concerned with the laws of gravity and more interested in the revolutionary forms possible.


But where is the integrity?, If we are to follow this approach to design how does this make and ARCHITECT any more than a designer or an artist, preoccupied with shapes and form. Is this superficial approach of any benefit to the future of architecture or for that matter the future of architects… if there is one??


But it is these visualization tools and rendering programs are assisting clients to better comprehend the architectural vision, bridging the gap that had for so long existed, however at the same time stripping architecture of any prestige, exposing it as a profession , aesthetically obsessed…instead of a medium to decipher and interpret advancements and their cultural impact.


What could have been the key to unlocking the next stage in the evolution of architecture was a misnomer. The people with the skills to drive these digital technologies, lack the technical construction knowledge to make the visualizations a reality, making the designs nothing more than complex shapes masquerading as buildings, doomed to stay locked within the boundaries of the virtual realm….


However there have been 2 responses to the integration of digital technologies that have evolved,

The first, the approach involving the technicians and technology geeks, preoccupied with the variety of forms possible through the use of complex visualization and rendering programs.


The second employs the these same technologies to not only communicate the final aesthetics but to model specific site constraints to obtain comprehensive 3d analysis of external impacts while insuring optimal internally programming. Utilizing the digital technologies to make reality what is possible in the virtual.


The second approach implemented by those designers who have long since tired of an aesthetic obsession, uses these same technologies but instead experiments with the program capabilities, creating designs evolved from mathematical equations. Some designers have gone as far as to use knowledge obtained from advanced biological fields to inspire the generative process of ordering of spaces as well as aesthetics.

It is the ability to comprehend the pragmatic site constraints with a much more detailed understanding in a shorter period of time that has allowed the architects the time to concentrate longer on and delve deeper into the conceptual stage of design.


Exemplifying this second approach are three internationally acclaimed architects well known for their use of digital technologies, TOYO ITO, FRANK GEHRY, and GREG LYNN. However the impact these technologies have had on each of their design processes varies greatly.


TOYO ITO

Born 1941, graduated 1965 from TOKYO UNIVERSITY and later establishing his own practice in 1971, has received many awards for his achievements in architecture, his most publicized work to date – Tower of the Winds project in Yokohama.Ito’s philosophical approach to digital technologies aims to hypothesize and respond to the effects digital technologies are already having on the way we live.


He believes the information atmosphere in which we are now submerged, is a vacuum, from which we require shelter, protection and mediation of contact. Ito describes the contemporary architecture as requiring the characteristics of skin, allowing us the means to adjust to the information environment… MEDIA SUITE.


Just as the machine was the dominant metaphor for the modernists of the industrial revolution, the microchip, according to Jennifer Taylor, is seen by Ito as the first compelling contemporary image to replace the machine analogy.Ito uses this theoretical concept to refocus the nature of the physical being versus the virtual, responding with an architecture almost virtual, achieving this through a detail play of opacity of materials, weight of structure and form.


In addition, Ito also employs these technologies in a more pragmatic sense to help resolve complex structural proposals.
The Sendai Mediatheque exemplifing this. Digital technologies enabling the conversion of the structural concept for reflective tubes, the metaphorical umbilical cord, that penetrated the body of the building providing energy, air and light .

FRANK GEHRY


Born 1929, graduated 1954 from the University of Southern California setting up practice in 1962. Gehry has been awarded nine honorary degrees since 1987, and has been the recipient of the Pritzker Prize in 1989, the gold medal from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada 1998, and a gold medal from the American Institute of Architects 1999.


However in contrast with Ito’s approach, Gehry lacks an ongoing philosophical method, rather he approaches each commission as another sculptural form. He utilizes the digital technologies instead to translate his sketches and cardboard models into computer models, which then allow for faster and more accurate analysis of structure and more cost effective approach to the construction, through the automated preparation of detailed 2d construction drawings.


Gehry most publicized project, Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, demonstrates the use of these technologies to achieve structural resolution, as the technologies assisted in solving both the technical aspects as well as the most cost efficient approach to the use of titanium cladding on the anamorphous building shape.


Digital technologies are also employed in Gehry’s studio, in form and final aesthetic generation, not as the driving force, or tool of creation but rather as the interpreter.

Gehry stresses that the process isn’t just about creating shapes, and that his process of design begins in considering the programming of space and scale of the site. That through the use of 3d modeling programs to produce realistic perspectives he is able to test the suitability of the sculpted form to its environment and make the necessary changes.


Although Gehry is a leader in his utilization of digital technologies it is unlikely that these technologies will play anymore than a sideline role in his design process, as it is his belief that to turn to the computer as a shape maker is the moment when these technologies move from servant to master.


GREG LYNN


Lynn born 1964, graduating 1986 from Miami University, and 1988 with a Masters from Princeton, and appointed by FORBES magazine in November 2005 as one of the top ten architects who are most influencing the future of the American landscape.


Lynn’s approach to the integration of these digital technologies unlike that of Ito or Gehry is one of complete immersion. The entire process of design completed within the virtual realm. Best known for his love of the blob, he believes that the computer technologies have allowed architects the flexibility to analyze site constraints with much more accuracy than ever before and he is encouraging architects to respond with a less constrained more flexible architecture.


Lynn uses a variety of digital technologies to illustrate complex concept of mathematical equations, unlike Gehry’s models that are built in a controlled modeling environment, Lynn’s models exploit the characteristics of these digital technologies to create a digital model that relies on a relativity of points, where by the manipulation of one area of the form will in turn impact on the form of another area, what he describes a cloud of points. Lynn exploits those characteristics inherent to the new medium, as would any artist working with clay or oils.


On first impressions it may be hard to differentiate Lynn’s approach form that of the aesthetically obsessed computer geek, however his approach is not only an accumulation of virtual experiences but incorporates the consideration of several different variables, and external influences. The H2 House project in Vienna demonstrates this, a visitor centre for the display of new solar and low energy technology is located on the highway, Lynn used the paths of automotive movement to determine the form of several of the facades. Or the The Embryological Housing project which also harnesses the speed and accuracy of processing power of these digital technologies to determine form. This project deals with topic of prefabrication, using the technology to test and determine as many alternate configurations as possible from a kit of over 3000 prefabricated panels, while still conforming to certain design restrictions.




For all these architects, the ability to comprehend the site and the final designs with a more detail understanding, in a much shorter period of time, is allowing them the time to concentrate longer on and delve deeper into all stages of the design process. These digital technologies are facilitating an architecture that is no longer preoccupied by real world conditions, but one that relates to and examines the fluctuating relations of abstract elements conditional of this new era of virtuality.


No doubt if architects in general had their way, the future would allow for an architecture that through the process of translation and transition from the virtual to the real did not compromise the freedom and freshness that the virtual realm and new digital technologies are allowing. However it is because of those characteristics of the virtual, which are radically different from those of the real, that we are seeing a strong shift in the architecture.


The new architecture is a liquid architecture determined by a fluidity of ever changing forces, an architecture modified by the user, ever changing and dynamic. So as we look toward the future of architecture it is important that as a part of our reaction to this new space time vernacular, that architects of the digital era begin to retheorize the body in space.


Architects will have to face the realization that the future will not be about solely designing and constructing real structures, but also web spaces and simulated environments within the virtual realm, or augmented reality, virtual in it spatialities, but built on the bones of the real.


With the development and advancement of digital technologies, and human computer interfaces, the designing of space will not only be revolutionized by new dimensions, or a new space time vernacular, but by a move to comprehend space and form with more than just the sense of sight. The virtual dimension will hold the possibility to totally experience the act of being at any place at any time of day, any time of year, any year.


This poses the question for the future of architecture real and virtual –


WILL THE VIRTUAL BECOME MORE REAL THAN THE REAL ITSELF?

2. MARKETABILITY

In what is being heralded as a transition out of the INFORMATION ERA the new commodity, defining the currency of the new era, is KNOWLEDGE…

How do architects fit into this? Well known as the jack of all trades and the master of none, there seems to be no knowledge area specific to architects, that we might package and sell as our own.


On reading the SEP/OCT Issue, the latest issue of the Architecture Australia publication, I came across an article called WHY ARCHITECTURE MATTERS by Sandra Kaji-O’Grady. Associate Professor and Head of architecture at the University of Technology, Sydney.


She aims to suggest that are many clues in our modern society that reinforce the importance of Architecture to not only people like us, but others too. Just a few of those she suggests are…

- the close regulation and control by governing bodies and councils

- the symbolic potency, and architecture's ability to be a powerful tool, understood by both politicians and terrorists alike

- its ability to add value, exploited by real estate agents“ architect designed” “architecturally inspired”

- and its ability through its position as a marker of status to elicit envy, or pride depending on your view point, as an aspiring occupant or a privileged inhabitant.


But to do all of these, DOES ARCHITECTURE NEED ARCHITECTS ???

None of these attributes of Architecture are unattainable without the input of an ARCHITECT..so what do we bring to architecture? What area of knowledge that in this commodity obsessed society not only enriches the value of the architecture we produce, but capitalizes and reinforces our position and profession.


Alain de Botton’s recent publication “THE ARCHITECTURE OF HAPPINESS”, aims to confront why it is we surround ourselves with environments unpleasant if we are the masters of the creation of our own surrounds, and we could choose to surround ourselves with beautiful environments.

He blames architects both past and present for many of the unpleasant and ugly buildings and surrounds, and suggests that it was as apart of architects of the modern era becoming obsessed by the functionality of the architecture, and renouncing a formal interest in beauty, that the architects of today do not know how to design a pleasing/beautiful environment.

However ill informed or somewhat off mark Alain de Botton’s diatribe, it does suggest some interesting points.  That the space in which we surround ourselves affects us.  Understanding what about a space makes us comfortable or at ease and therefore beautiful is more intuitive or driven from within our psyche, and that we as architects, whether substantiated or not, are seen as the main designers of the urban landscapes, and are blamed for all its short comings.

I will leave this topic open ended for the moment… for you to ponder… and will come back to it in conclusion.
3. SMART SPACE

According to Forbes magazine, Feb 2006, One of the top 10 things that will change the way we live, within the foreseeable future, are haptics. Haptics refers to technologies that interface with the user via the sense of touch. Currently being used in the fileds of medicine, miltary and virtual modelling, the likes of the CyberForce glove by Immersion Corporation lets users interact physically with virtual object, literally feeling the shape, texture and weight of any onscreen 3-D objects. It is proposed that through the intergration of these technologies, people will be able to shake hands virtually over the internet, or doctors will have the ability to remotely diagnose and operate on patients.

Teaming these emerging technologies with virtual technologies already well adavanced, it is possible to see a future of virtual environments, within which we interact, both in work and play, or augmented realites where both the virtual and the real interact, one informing the other… Not yet as advanced are technolgies interfacing with the other senses like smell, however they are in the pipeline…

As architects and designers experiment with the implimentation of these new technolgies will the architecture of the future become one obsessed with the sensory experience….Drowning in an over abundance sensory stimulation, obsessed by the capabilities of the technolgies…

Before we repeat the mistakes or learning curves of the past, should we not consider what tools and knowledge would assist us in creating a more valuable and smart response…

In a not so distant future of webspaces, both virtual and augemented, does it not seem like the best approach to start to investigate, learn and teach the new architects more about not only the aethetics of space but the psychological power these spaces of their creation can wield… The knowledge is there.. in the field of environemental psychology, most of it is just substainitated evidence of what most of us already know in our gut…

As Juhani Pallasmaa explains in his text, THE EYES OF THE SKIN, Architecture and the Senses, “that bad architecture is as much a failure of the psychology as of the design”…he goes on to suggest that “ it is evident that ‘life-enhancing’ architecture has to address all the senses simultaneously and fuse our image of self with our experience of the world” he suggests that as a result of the use of computer imaging techologies, the resultant architectures have become flat, obsessed by the visual journey….

Pallasmaa goes on to elaborate as to how we measure and interact with architecture through our senses, and how it is through the consideration of the impact of these factors on our experience of space, that we may begin to reenergize our current architecture.

I propose that it is only through a much more intimate understanding of all of these aspects of space and human psychology, that architects may begin to substantiate their position and role in this knowledge based era.

An architect versed with a much more in depth understanding of the impacts of space on the psyche, would have the ability to produce an architecture that could soothe the occupant, making them feel protected, without smothering them, feel part of their surrounds without being exposed, or in a different sitiuation could create a space that invigorates and energizes the occupant, creating an atmosphere or ambience suitable to a particular product/image encouraging them to stay, try or buy.

From Healthy spaces, made to massage the mind to more effective shop interfaces… the possibilites are abundant… Architects could bring to architecture the knowledge to create more than architecture as we currently percieve it, but SMART SPACES not only virtual but real…

The architecture of the architects of the future will be more than ever about the HUMAN rather than the STRUCTURE….I hope ...this more immersive move into the 3D world both opens our eyes and our minds...willing to learn from the virtual in a hope to give back to the real....