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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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Constructing the Specific – Phil Ayres

  • On April 24, 2006

Phil Ayres a member of sixteen *( makers ) and tutor of the Bartlett Interactive Architecture Workshop spoke last week at Podnet (post-digital architecture network) about sixteen* (makers) research and development.

Through a series of projects they have explored design methodologies which use the complimentary technologies of CAD and CAM . He spoke about how their recent projects were exploiting real world data to start to develop adaptive and local specific artifacts from initially generic starting points.

Phil describes the ability of a structure whether to biologically or artificially redefine and modify itself as being adaptive. ‘An adaptive system requires attributes of behavior, sensing and memory and then mechanisms of feedback allowing for these adaptive systems to construct themselves specifically for their environment increasing their local specificity over time.’

What was of most interest to me was how they built an iterative loop into this process so that rather than the design and construction being a linear process, it was a system of reiterations based on observations which as the cycles of the loops progressed created the possibility to build artifacts that were specific to local conditions of a site. Their most recent project is situated in the rich and varied landscape of Keilder (UK), containing a vast forest and the largest man made lake in Europe . Their research question – ‘The computer allows us to simulate living systems and their environments over time. With a bridge constructed between the worlds of the digital and physical through CAD/CAM, could notions of growth and adaptation act as mechanisms to drive the design, manufacture and life cycle of fragments or larger parts of the built environment.’

They have developed initally environmental drivers using temperture variation accross diurnal/nocturnal/seasonal cycles. These values are able to build up data sets of locally specific microclimates. They have examined these climates under 2 found conditions, exposed and under mature canopy and 1 introduced condition, glass enclosed spaces placed in exposed areas. ‘The results vary dramatically, suggesting possible investigations exploring a range of differing strategies to exploit or inhibit the influence of local conditions through architectonic means.’

They are currently developing the first iteration of the described cycle and have generic prototypes fabricated and awaiting installation on site early this spring. During this time they will be ‘speculating and testing associations between design drivers and design attributes, and possible goal states of the construct in relation to specific site conditions. It is here that the design challenge presents itself in that too prescriptive a definition of rules will result in predictable outcomes, denying the opportunity for the designer to experience surprise and delight.’

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