Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

Scroll to top


No Comments

Motive Mythologies

Motive Mythologies
  • On November 23, 2012

This years Lab Research Theme is ‘Motive Mythologies’. Below is the brief handed out to students at the beginning of the year to stimulate responses. If you’re interested in studying with the Interactive Architecture Lab, you can find out more about us here.

1. In motion or transformation.
2. Having reason for action.

1. Chronicles of a religious or cultural tradition.
2. Beliefs about a person, thing, place, or situation, exaggerated or fictitious.

In his theoretical discussions on interaction Gordon Pask suggests that man seeks out novelty and finds pleasure in engaging that which is ambiguous, or contradicts his present state of knowing. In coming to terms with something new, man conceptualizes and abstracts in order to problem solve and ultimately take greater control. This imperative motivates his social desires to communicate, and interact with the world around him.  Patterns are sought to be found between new encounters and a history of experiences, some we accumulate ourselves, others neuro-science suggests we are born ‘hardwired’ with. We will seek to understand how patterns of motion and transformation found in our natural world viscerally guide our imagination, our mythologies, our rituals, artifacts and artifice.

Our cluster’s focus will be on kinetic and interactive design looking at the latest robotics, material and responsive systems while at the same time borrowing from a long history of performative machines and performing arts. Performance can be found in every aspect of architectural production, from the writing of the brief, right through to the material behaviour of the spaces we build and the actions of people who inhabit them. We’re also interested in the perceptual and psychological aspects of movement, interaction and performance with a focus this year on the perception of animism. If you’ve ever encountered skillful puppetry, you’ll find yourself willingly suspending your disbelief, projecting life into things that in all rational terms are devoid of life. Jean Piaget established that children of 2 till 7 in age demonstrate the highest degrees of animist perception but even as adults we still find ourselves projecting life into the most unlikely of things – particularly when they demonstrate movement or degrees of purposeful and intelligent behaviour. In a world increasingly inhabited by artificially intelligent systems, contextually aware gadgets, sensory spaces and robotic agents, will our sense of our built environment as inert and lifeless change to one rich in synthetic personalities, and strange forms of artificial life?

In the clusters creative mis-use of contemporary technologies we are interested in using alternate presents and speculative futures as a tool to reconsider ways of harnessing the technologies of today. This years speculation will centre on the relationship between technology and mythology using our field trip to Mexico to explore ancient Mesoamerican esoteric practices, and astrological technologies. Not only did they define the architecture and urban planning of the time but also the social behaviour and belief systems of a remarkable band of civilizations stretching across Central America.

This year’s cluster symbol is Ollintonatiuh or as its also known, Nahuiollin – The Sun of Movement. According to Mesoamerican Mythology, there have been four historical ages, called Suns – those of earth, wind, fire and water. Each has been destroyed. The present era is that of the Sun of Movement. It began on the 11th August 3114 B.C and will end this year on the 21st of December 2012 after a period of 5126 years.  According to the Mesoamerican Calendar we will enter into the Time of the Sixth Sun which predicts a time of transformation and the creation of new race.  Whether or not you believe in this prediction, the bleeding edge of bio/nano/info-technologies suggests that radical transformations in our relationship to our natural and built environment are ahead. The question of how we as architects take a role in designing, engineering and fabricating these new active, reactive, interactive spaces is one the cluster seeks to question.

Research Methodology

Through 1:1 prototyping we will design and fabricate motive objects and installations exploring novel interactions, performance, mythologies and new patterns of behaviour. Our research will be inherently time-based and we will characterize time-based architecture into three distinct conceptual modes of behaviour. These will form the basis of the 3 terms of project development.

  • Automatic; Single choreographed behaviour following a linear arrangement from beginning to end.
  • Reactive; multiple choreographed behaviours following non-linear arrangements, triggered by stimuli.
  • Interactive; un-choreographed behaviours formed through exchanges between participants.

TERM 1. AUTOMATON: Kinetic Design through Simulation & Fabrication

We will begin by making automatons to develop a range of practical making skills, an intensive introduction to the schools workshop and digital fabrication facilities, alongside a fundamental understanding of mechanics, material behaviour and digital simulation modelling. Each student will build a working physical automaton alongside a simulation model to explore the difficult gap that exists between the analog and the digital, the complexity of the material world in conversation with the discrete immaterial world of computation.

For millennia man has built machines attempting to imitate life mechanically. The art of automata design flourished in the renaissance with the revival of greek mechanical engineering, mathematics, and astronomy. The scientific treaties of Ctesibius, Philon, and Heron distributed widely with the advent of printing lead to interest in hydraulic and pneumatic systems that offered artists and scientists a biological view of the human body that paralleled mechanical systems. By the late 18th Century Tanaka Hisashige’s ‘Yumihikidoji’, or Archer Doll automata along with his many other mechanical inventions were pivotal in Japan’s ascendency as a modern industrial nation. Today Japan’s pre-eminance in robotic manufacturing processes are attributed in large part back to the invention and skill of automata art.

TERM 2. REACTIVE SYSTEMS: Physical Computation & Cybernetic Design

A common reactive mechanism in Architecture is the Thermostat. It continually measures the temperature of its environment and purposefully acts (by heating or cooling) to maintain a defined stable state. This is an example of a simple feedback (or teleological) mechanism. A circularity between sensing and acting towards a goal state. We will examine the theoretical implications of feedback through a Cybernetic framework and we will call the goals of the things we make their ‘motivations’.

We will become the designers of these motives beginning the term with a week long “Arduino” workshop introducing programming techniques, electronics, and robotics. You will learn how to make objects that can sense, think and act. We will explore the full range of possibilities to sense and respond to the natural and built environment, to people and other living things, to data local and global with light, sound, movement, haptics, and many of other sensory experiences.

TERM 3. INTERACTIVE SYSTEMS: Adaptation & Artificial Intelligence

As our physical and computational design work becomes more advanced we will examine how the behaviour of the things we make can adapt over time. How they can learn and evolve to changes in their surrounding environment, to human behaviour or their own material condition. We will find inspiration in artificial intelligence, embodied robotics and computer vision, all disciplines who’s roots grew out of Cybernetics. Not only has it influenced computational practices but has also been highly influential in the development of theories in learning, cognition, emergence, adaptation and communication.


Submit a Comment