Soft Architecture from the Interactive Architecture Lab

Last week I criticized the Hortum machine, B project from the Interactive Architecture Lab at the University College London. To be clear, I recognize both the skill and creativity exhibited, though I have strong objections to some of the rhetoric they use. (And the words are pretty peripheral and irrelevant to the project anyway, in my opinion.)

I wanted to note that this lab has some exciting things going on, exploring contemporary materials and the intersection of digital and physical systems.

Several projects are messing about with soft, squishy, pneumatically actuated materials and designs. This might be called “Soft architecture”, though much of it is wearable technology.

Their designs are leading to interesting mobile, active architecture, such as “Furl: Soft Pneumatic Pavilion”. The scale model is actually rather alarming and tentacle-y. (And why did they have to introduce the pointless EEG sensor?)

A more recent project is much harder. Much harder! “Fabricating Performance: The interaction of dance and construction” riffs on ideas about embodied computing, gestural interfaces, and the notation of dance performances, to create a somewhat alarming process that renders digitally captured motion into a space filling fabrication of bent pipes. (See their forthcoming paper.)

“The project is a spatially interactive design system. Driven by the motivation of a participating performer/designer, body movement is tracked, analysed and translated into tool paths for fabrication by a robotic armature and an industrial CNC pipe bending machine”

As I said earlier, these works exhibit tremendous technical skill and craft. They also show sparks of creativity.

I remarked that these pieces seem “alarming” to me. I think this visceral reaction comes from the human scale of these projects, large enough to be “dangerous” (and possibly erotic). Furthermore, these projects are very, very real, they aren’t just fantasies and renderings. There is no doubt they can be built, even art majors can do it! it’s a bit scary to contemplate. Who knows when I may suddenly encounter something like this? Who knows what it might actually do?

Interesting stuff, even if they do tend to over hype things a bit.

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