The Body Chair is shown at Dubai Design Days in Design District D3 from 13-17 March 2017, presented by the Dutch Creative Industry [DCI] in 3 bespoke configurations: BYYU 30 FABRIC, BYYU 60 WOOD and BYYU 60 MONDRIAN, and at the Salone di Mobile from 4-9 April, presented by Masterly at the Palazzo Francesco Turati in the center of Milan.
Some days ago I shared a video of a swarm of thousands of starlings. This shared video quickly has over hundred likes, it sure appeals to people’s expectations of what is beautiful. I added two words:swarm architecture. In other words I linked the image of the swarm to architecture, notably my own.
Now how can a recording of a dynamic swarm possibly link to something that is as static as architecture? [the answer is literally blowing in the wind]. I certainly did not refer to the swarm as a superficial reference only, and it is explicitly not meant as a metaphor. I hate metaphors, my design attitude is based on what it is, not what it looks like.
So what is the swarm in my architecture? It really started 20 years ago when we were designing and executing the Waterpavilion at Neeltje Jans in Zeeland. To actually build the steel structure we found out that describing [scripting] the exact geometric relations between the reference points on the control curves would form the best basis for the communication with the production machines. We realized that CNC production machines do not read drawings but process data instead. So we decided to produce data which were directly used by the algorithms running the machines. It was the birth of deep parametric design to production.
Now we learned how to describe the relations between reference points of the point cloud, we realized that we were actually doing something very similar to what birds do in a flock. The birds follow some simple rules as to form the flock. Yet the birds execute their rules as a player in a running complex adaptive system, similar to being a player in a game. This triggered me to think of architecture as a dynamic system, not only in the design phase where everything is still mouldable, but also in its behavior as a built structure. That being noted, I invented the Trans-Ports multimodal pavilion in the years 1999 – 2000. The Trans-ports pavilion is a structure that changes shape and content in real time as to accommodate changing use over time. Keywords that I used from then on: time based architecture, real time behavior, multimodality, interactive architecture. The nodes of the dynamic structure act as in a swarm, they look to their immediate neighbours as to change position and information content.
In that same year I was invited to make an interactive installation for the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2000. As proof of concept for multimodality and real time behavior I designed together with Ilona Lénárd the interactive painting titled Handdrawspace, 360 degrees projected on the 3 curved screens around the central arena for the interaction with the public. The public would move between center and periphery of the arena and trigger arrays of sensors informing the algorithms. The algorithms controlled the number of dots, the size of dots, and the background colors.
Everything we have done since, whether interactive installations or built structures, notably the Web of North-Holland, the A2 Cockpit, the Bálna Budapest, the LIWA tower in Abu Dhabi are further steps in the development of that basic concept of the swarm. Without compromise, the logic of the swarm functioned as the very genetic material facilitating our design language.
NB: I have written since quite a number of articles on swarm architecture [google entry: swarm architecture kas oosterhuis].
My attention was triggered when reading on Facebook a discussion between Archis / Volume critic Arjen Oosterman and Geert Bekaert Prize winner Mark Minkjan. The discussion circled around the value and misleading tendencies of architectural rendering, taking a MVRDV project as an example. Although I sympathize with Arjen Oosterman, who rightfully was blaming Minkjan for an easy twist of populism, my immediate professional reflex was: why not discussing the meaning of the design itself instead? The architectural discourse should in my opinion address the inspirations, intentions and possible implications of the actually proposed design as to be able to discuss in public the impact on the design practice. Therefore, to put the money where the mouth is, here are my observations of the very design itself, interlaced with some explicit opinions.
Real science fiction
Knowing the MVRDV lead designers – Jacob van Rijs en Nathalie de Vries invited me to be their design tutor – I wish to take their design intentions seriously. I am familiar with their original fascinations for bold design concepts, very much encouraged by myself back then in the early nineties, and I have seen how they were subsequently influenced by OMA’s hyperbolic turbo language and lightweight cynism. The Ravel Plaza design stands for something I think is worthwhile reflecting upon, however not for the reasons Mark Minkjan was awarded his prize for.
When looking at the design I am not shocked by the abundance of greenery on the balconies, neither on an assumed absence of balustrades, but I am not so much shocked as well as straightforwardly disagreeing with a design intention that destructs, collapses, erodes and explodes. I simply can not raise empathy with the act of eating away bits and pieces of a World Trade style tower. Instead of developing an original concept for a residential tower with lush balconies, which would be an absolute important thing to do, they chose to erode something they criticize as to define their design goal. Therewith the design intent becomes a built form of critique of something they do not want. But, if one doesn’t not want it, why taking that as a starting point at all? Just to to tell a story? But what story? Looking at the design, I see a resemblance with the crash of the World Trade towers. Why taking a disaster – whether an unconsciously or consciously made design decision – as the inspiration for the visual effect? Having watched many sci-fi movies and having seen the twin towers coming down as a real form of science fiction, I realize that the visual impact of the image of destruction can be so strong that it somehow burns into the designer’s mind. Somehow there is no escape from it, at least not when takes a straightforward tower design as the starting point for the storytelling. My critique on MVRDV’s design is that it confirms a destructive Hollywood driven self-fulfilling prophecy rather than offering an alternative tio it.
Erosion and explosion
As to indicate that the Ravel Plaza design concept is not an isolated incident, I refer to other recent designs featuring similar gnawing characteristics. OMA’s Asian spin-off Ole Scheeren [OS] has designed an evocative MahaNakhon tower in Bangkok, Thailand, indeed evoking the erosion of a once-has-been straightforward tower design. Needless to say that it evokes much more emotion than the simple rectangular tower would have been able to produce, but that is not the point. The point is what sort of emotion Scheeren – using the power of the proposal – has chosen to trigger. He chose to snag modernism, which I consider as a form of violation, meaning that first he needs something he is critical of to violate, and only then be able to then tell his story of erosion and destruction.
The extreme version of erosion is explosion, which is the design story line MVRDV has chosen when designing their Cloud tower in Seoul. An exploded mid section, spitting out the low resolution voxels into all directions, strongly reminiscent of the effect of the violent Ground Zero impact. Although Winy Maas denies that there is such direct relation, it is obvious that the image of violent destruction has captured the designer’s mind, and that he unconsciously can not do otherwise than express the sign of times in this way. My own scheme of things tells me that the design for a skyscraper should come from the internal logic of the design to production process itself, rather than wrapping an otherwise traditional tower with a cosmetic intervention based on lighthearted storytelling. In my worldview a good design will express itself, instead of being an illustration to a story.
Poisonous combination of erosion and voxelisation
What troubles me particularly is the poisonous combination of the erosive approach to design with the aesthetics of voxelisation. Both the designs of MVRDV, OMA, OS and BIG share the same fascination for what is often referred to as pixelation, which is in effect is voxelisation in a very low resolution. Not surprisingly the Why Factory led by Winy Maas asks their students to build towers using white lego blocks. These lego towers are built up using structural voxels. In contrast, my own scheme of things is based on high resolution complex geometry combined with a strong internal structural logic, a well balanced marriage between top-down and bottom-up approach. Now what is popular among OMA and their spin-offs MVRDV, OS, BIG and many more – while these successful offices jointly have been dominatoing the architectural discourse for decades – stands almost opposite to what I stand for. The road I have taken, together with many of my peers of the Transarchitectures movement formed end of nineties by Marcos Novak and Odile Fillion and the participants of the earliest Archilab Conferences, headed by Marie-Ange Brayer, Zeynep Mennan and Frédéric Migayrou, who is now Head of Architecture at the Bartlett in London, is the interlacing of digital technology with architectural theory and practice. It is instrumental to note that these truly new fundamental developments were completely ignored by Rem Koolhaas in his 2014 “Fundamentals” Venice Biennale. His timeline of – in his view – relevant movements in architectural theory ended when he left the AA, that is end of eighties. Everything that happened after that was not included nor respected, neither in the selected “fundamentals” in that particularly retro-active Biennale. my base point of critique that the selected subjects like stairs, walls, ceilings, balconies etc are derivates rather than fundamentals. He intentionally missed the point by completely ignoring the richness and beauty of dynamic adaptive systems and complexity, which fields of research and practice – ONL’s LIWA tower serves as a representative of applied complex adaptive systems cq associative information modeling – are dealing with fundamental issues in architectural theory, understanding and working with the actual state of digital technology.
In conclusion, I consider voxelisation for design concepts on the grand scale of architecture as a deceivingly reductive simplification of building technology, counterproductive to present advancements in architectural theory and practice. The combination of sympathy with destruction and erosion with voxelisation is outright alarming for its uncanny parallels to populism in politics using hyperbolic forms of expression in combination with simplified language.
The title of this blog leaves no doubt. I am not a fan of parametricism, while everything we do at my innovation studio ONL and at my chair Hyperbody at the TU Delft is fundamentally parametric. I will explain why. I do not think that it is a matter of definitions, but a matter of understanding of what parametric design is about. It certainly is not a style, and it should never be seen as such. In his lecture at the symposium Artificial Intuition  of which I managed the content at the Faculty of Architecture at the TU Delft Robert Aish told us that parametric design was something he was doing already back in the seventies while working for a Polish shipbuilder. Since a ship does not have a repetitive section through its body due to the streamline of the ship he developed a detail of which the values would adapt to their changing position in the body. That is parametric indeed, although Aish had a better word for it, he named it Associative Modelling. Parametric design means modelling associations between the components, which a ship or a building is made of. Associations are a form of dynamic entanglement. When one part changes its values, the associated parts change with it.
Since the early nineties my short definition of parametric design is the art of establishing dynamic relationships. Adaptive relationships of parts to parts, of things to things, of objects to objects, whether in the virtual realm or in the materialized world. Related to parametric design, but not the same, is interactive architecture, which I define as the real time relationships of people to things, and the other way round. Relationships are per definition bidirectional and never static. Relationships are constructed by acting in a complex adaptive system. Such is the case with parametric design, a parametric relationship acts both ways and in multiple ways.
Apollo < > Soyuz
An associative relationship does not necessarily mean that the neighboring part is similar in its shape or dimensions. Entangled parts can be of a different family and of a different order. I can illustrate this with my favourite yet one-dimensional form of a parametric relationship, which is the relation between the Soviet Soyuz and the American Apollo capsules docking in space. This happened back in the seventies of last century and it was a huge accomplishment, and of high political and technical importance. American and Russians embarked on a shared process of exchanging visions, views and data, eventually leading to the agreement on one single common docking ring. It basically meant that the Soyuz and the Apollo fitted exactly, in one moment in time, at one specific location, with one specific set of shapes and dimensions. It is this exactness of the association that is key to parametric design. In the world of parametric design one establishes exact relationships between parts, entangled as to adapt to the variations of the neighboring part.
While designing the Waterpavilion [ONL, 1997] we linked the reference points on the main 8 curves, define the geometry of the sculpture building, to the reference points of the steel structure, to the skin and the continuous variable fins gradually emerging out of the main body to emphasize the curvature. Structure, skin and featured fins were linked into one coherent parametric system. Associatively linked since in each instance on the curve the relative values of their mutual distances and angles would change with their positions along the curve. These relationships were not modeled in a existing CAD program but scripted from scratch using Autolisp routines. Drawings and 3d models are meaningless in a dynamic parametric world. The associations are defined with formulas and algorithms, describing their mutual relationships. Scripting is a very lean method of design, consuming very little data, exported to and retrieved from a database.
What is often considered as a parametric design is mostly nothing more than a fashionable form of tessellation of the surface, covering only a literally superficial part of the design / building. The real power of parametric design is to link all constituting components to each other, including floor, wall, roof such that when And staying within the limitations of such a mono-culture of similar yet not the same parts, one could indeed speak of a style, largely subject to fashion and voluntary follower of built-in commands of certain design software. Yet it would be unjust to the full potential of parametric design to declare the superficial qualities of being similar yet not the same a mainstream design movement, whether or not labelled as parametricism. To do that is a populist act, not respecting what are the underlying values. I remember having stated in my letter to Alvin Boyarsky describing my vision as unit master at the Architectural Association [AA] in London [1988-1989], that I reject all -isms. Then my rebellion was against modernism and its counterpart post-modernism, constructivism and its counterpart de-constructivism, both of which were deeply adhered to at that time at the AA. But I wanted no more -isms. So it may not be surprising that I became allergic to the term parametricism, which is nothing more than an attempt of Patrick Schumacher to become the founder and leader of a populist movement, feeding upon the supramatist sometimes bigoted calligrahic sweeps by the late Zaha Hadid [read my blog Calligraphic Sweeps]. His attempt to establish a mainstream movement would be more appropriately labeled patricism, more than anything else.
While modernism is an attitude which attempts to look modern, yet in its essence is not modern but retro-actively looking like something modern, and constructivism is an attempt to look like a logical structure but in fact isn’t, the container term parametricism is fit for designs that look parametric but not necessarily are parametric. I feel that it is important to make the distinction. For example the Reiser Umemoto Swiss Cheese tower in Business Bay in Dubai  may be considered parametric, while it is not parametric at all. Yes, it features 5 different sizes of openings in the concrete exoskeleton in a seemingly random fashion, but that is exactly why it is not parametric. In a parametric design all openings would have been unique in their shape, any sameness would be a pure co-incidence. at the other end however, ONL’s LIWA tower is by and large parametric, linking the curved geometry drivers to the Gross Floor Area [GFA] calculations, to the steel structure and to the skin in one coherent relational system. All windows of the LIWA tower are unique in shape and dimensions, all structural X-crosses are unique in shape and dimension, and both systems are parametrically linked to each other. Changing the position of one reference point on the curve changes all windows and steel components on at least two ruled surfaces of the body wrap, while maintaining the set value for the GFA.
Parametric design systems must and can be developed further, until the point that all constituting components have become an acting part of the system. Building components are seen as actors in a dynamic and open relational design system. The design that comes close to this point is ONL’s BYYU Body Chair, where all bits and pieces are associated part in one coherent complex adaptive system, where at the front end the customer can set individual preferences, while at the back end the design is directly linked to the data driven robotic waterjet-cut production of the pieces. Only when having a fully functional parametric design system one can establish such direct link from design to production, from customer to end-user, which explains the relevance of treating parametric design systems not as something it looks like, but as something what it is deep down in its genetic structure.
The Body Chair is a radically parameterized design for a family of Made to Measure comfortable lounge chairs. The Body Chair consists of 28 pairs of 56 triangular base components, parametrically designed as to allow for endless geometric variations. The revolutionary asset of the Body Chair is that all constituting components such as the legs, the seating and the back, are all members of one and the same design system, based on one parametric detail.
This user centric Make Your Own shaping process is driven by the web based application at www.byyu.eu, allowing the customers to shape their own personal chair. The customers become co-creators shaping their personal geometry of their personalized chair. From the web based app to the production of the 28 components the design to production process is fully automated.
First of all I wish to reposition the human condition as we usually feel it and perceive it. I do feel the need to mentally reposition ourselves in the evolution of human society so far. My opening statement is that from the moment we started using tools as the extension of our bodies, we entered a robotic condition. From the moment we started to use a hammer to nail hard material into somewhat softer material we not only extended ourselves with tools, but we also started to interlace ourselves to systemic relationships between things. Using tools is where the Internet of Things and People really started. Let me give a few examples to illustrate this opening statement. The point that I wish to make is that we can no longer discuss human society without describing the intrinsic relationships between people and things / systems, we must take into account all things, tools, systems and environments. I abandon the anthropocentric view and look at things from levels up into the macro-world, and simultaneously from levels down into the microscopic universe.
Coevolution of things and people
Let us imagine a cabinetmaker in the workshop, which represents already a huge step in the evolution of the society where we take part in. I have to put emphasis on “taking part in” since already in this situation we can no longer maintain the position that humans have full control of this environment, that the cabinetmaker has full control over the tools that are used and the space [s]he is working in. The cabinetmaker plays a role in the systemic relationships between things and the self. There would be no nail if there would not be something like a hammer, there would be no hammer if not a person to hold the hammer. Things like hammer and people live in a symbiotic relationship, and in the context of today I would even say that things and people live in a systemic and indeed robotic relationship. The person is integral part of the system, but is not controlling the system, the cabinetmaker coevolves with the tools, the materials that are prepared for further operations, and the space one is working in. In this workshop condition the person is needed to fire the action, to pick up the hammer, to force down the nail into the wood. Seen from the perspective of the workshop as a complex environment the person is used to activate the tools and to put together the product. This we can visualize by speeding up time in a time lapse movie, and we actually see the cabinet come into being without even the trace of the cabinetmaker, he will appear as a ghostly appearance as to feed the workshop, he basically functions as the energy and the information that is used to compose the piece of furniture in that specific environment. The workshop is a metabolic cell that generates cabinets using the workforce of people as carriers of energy and information. Information is processed via the bodies and brains of the cabinetmakers to the tools and materials. The human body functions as an information hub in a much larger system of propagating information. Information feeds upon the human body to be processed, demonstrating the verifiable non-anthropocentric view on society. The higher purpose of the existence of human beings is not their own lives, neither the further development of their own species, I believe people exist only to function as a carrier to process information and to propagate processed information. In a similar fashion the car body is a carrier to distribute information, which in its turn is carried by people. The purpose of the Internet is not to be convenient to people, but to distribute information on a global scale. Information thus has become highly successful in evolutionary terms, and is soon expected to massively radiate out of our solar system and into nanoscales as to propagate further, perhaps until galaxies and quarks will find out that they are part of the same logic. In that larger system of things and people the mundane workshop is a cell of a larger body which is called the city, which in its turn is a hub in society at large.
How robotic is that? How robotic is such deep mutual relationship between people and things? We do not need a robotic arm or a robotic vacuum cleaner to mark the emergence of robotic environments. Robotic environments started to form right away after the dawn of systemic intelligence, extending versatile human bodies with mobile tools and instruments. The fact that these tools are not fixed to the human body does not make them less of a direct extension. It is exactly this mobility that is the fascinating aspect of “recent” [millions of years] evolution. Things and systems are deeply linked to bodies without a physical connection. It is exactly for that reason that I am not impressed by performances with explicit robotic extensions that are fixed to his own body. To me that represents a pitiful misunderstanding of what evolution of information is actually doing with us, and what humans are doing with evolution. Similarly I am not impressed or even annoyed by constructing robots with the intention to copy human behavior, as to walk, grip, sniff and snooze.
Now imagine the driver car highway system. We can look at this system from different perspectives, from the perspective of the highway, the car and the driver. Let us first look at it from the viewpoint of the highway. It is fair to say that the highway processes the cars, that the highway actively digests a variety of cars, trucks, vans, motorbikes, basically any vectorial body that is fit to join the industrious traffic swarm scanning the global highway network. This process of digesting cars never stops, there is not a single moment that the highways and other roads stop processing. Sometimes they may process more cars, and then fluctuating to less car movements, but the highway is always in action. Even when the road is blocked for maintenance it must be seen as a form of action. And sometimes the hungry highway system may be temporarily blocked by traffic jams, yet always offers a bypass for their mobile prey . New highways are being constructed all the time, some old ones are fading away, new and more intense networks are made as to facilitate the evolution of information. Indeed, highways are information processing machines, delivering data carriers from A to B and back again. Such network of highways is very much alive, it never stops pumping cars through its veins, and is bound to increase its capacity in the coming decades, eventually to make place for a new intelligent transport system exchanging packages of information in a more efficient way. What drives the system? Who is the driver, who is the driven? Are we humans really the drivers of this system? Or are we as is the position I will take in this paper basically a form of data for the transport system, packages of information that are carried by our bodies, which in their turn are hosted by the cars, which in turn are processed by the highways. Driving a car one may have the illusion that one is in charge, that one is free to choose where to go. But in fact the journey is very much predetermined, governed by precise rules of conduct. Even more so when automated vehicles will become the norm. Free will is relative, which both applies to the human driver, to the car rolling on the highway, as to the highway processing the cars. I consider the road system to be a real time behaving input – processing – output machine. Each perspective is just as valid as any other point of view. The car has no meaning without the driver, the highway would not exist without the existence of cars, the human body would not be considered a driver without the idea of a car. Drivers, cars and highways form one complex interwoven system, fully coevolved in their doings . Drivers, cars and highways, all of these can be considered robotic as they execute certain mutually related tasks following a strict yet slowly evolving set of rules. Robots that work. We robots .
Architecture is considered in this context as the interface between the flow of people and the building components, the buildings themselves and the built environments at large, including infrastructure like highways, airports, harbors. Humans are embodied in their bodies , but what about buildings and infrastructure? Are they contained as bodies too? The logical consequence of the operational metabolism of buildings is that buildings must indeed be considered to possess a body. Buildings feed on material they are absorbing, basically everything that enters the semipermeable membranes of the house, as there are people, water, gas, electricity, data, air. Buildings process that information and convert it to something new or different. People rearrange things in the house, wear them out, throw them away, bring in new products. Water is injected in the house, rubs hands, bodies, forks, knives, waters the plants and leaves the house in a slightly contaminated condition. Gas feeds the oven and the gas boiler, is burnt and thrown out of the chimney. Electricity feeds the lights, TV set and other devices. Data feed your computer. Air is let in as to dilute the contaminated air. All these processes are in essence based on information exchange between the smallest nanoparticles. People leaving the house are uploaded with new information as distributed by television, radio or the internet, and they disseminate this information to other people, via notes, messages, spoken word, gestures. Information has been processed by the building, with people as the enzymes facilitating that process. Without people operating the body of the house that house would be a dead body. But viewing the bidirectional process from the other end is more telling. Homes are a necessary attribute of society. Homes have their own metabolism, arrays of homes congregate into buildings, along streets, which again have a metabolism of their own. Not functioning apart from people but intrinsically interwoven with the operations people execute on the buildings. So we are talking about a coexistence of homes and family, of buildings and communities, of city and society. We as people have become deeply linked to the built environment, in such a way that the one can not be seen separate from the other, they have built up a bi-directional relationship, ever evolving as to feed the propagation of information.
Information processing vehicles
In a similar way of looking at the coexistence of people and things the infrastructure of highways and secondary roads are processing vehicles in a nonstop process. Vehicles are like packages of information, carrying and delivering information to remote destinations, information in the form of people, who in turn are carriers and processors of information, or in the form of books, goods, stories and designs. The infrastructure is a huge extensive globally distributed information processing machine, interacting with other such machines operating at different scales, like the aviation network, the containership network, the bicycle network, the invisible communication networks, radio and television networks. The highway network is a machine that executes complex series of actions, and is programmed by its design to host the swarm of vehicles in a complex manner. Complexity is based on simple rules, the outcome of the process looks complex when viewed from outside the system. All such complex networks must be considered to constitute a body , whether physically contained in a body or ephemeral contained in software and rules of conduct.
Now that buildings infrastructures and their programs have been identified as bodies , the question that must be raised here is whether these building bodies and those infrastructural bodies are robotic by nature . Nature as we know it is considered here as a computation, based on information exchange between the acting players, whether big or small. How do these building bodies actually operate? Can they be stopped at all? Is there an on / off button? Are they being operated or do they operate? Can they die? Are they born? How are they produced? Most likely answer: by the people – workshop / factory complex adaptive system. How did they come into existence at all? The most essential definition of a robot is that they are constructed bodies that “work”. Here we are, houses work, buildings do work, cities work, infrastructure works. Robots do not need to resemble people to bear the name robot. I will adopt here the broader definition of what a robot means to us and to our society. The narrow definition is according to the Oxford Dictionary : “A machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer”. Since I consider the global highway network a “machine” that feeds on vehicles, which in their turn are programmed by people and gas, and since as seen from a non-anthropocentric viewpoint they can not be stopped to do so, hence automatically carrying out their actions, and while they are programmed to execute their tasks of facilitating the flow of vehicles, the highway network must be considered a robotic body. We live with them, live in them, and can not live without them. Our lives and the lives of the robotic environments are deeply interlaced and form a co-creative steadily evolving being .
A Day in the Life
This paragraph intends to elaborate upon the intrinsic relationship between people and machines that surround them and are operated by them. Whether we like it or not, you are bound to be intimately linked to a machine or system of some sort for most of the day. You are caught in machines, which in turn are caught in systems, and it feels so natural that you don’t feel that you are taken hostage. Let’s experience a day in the life, and simply register how and how long you are communicating with some version of a machine. Or, in other words, to what extent you are an analogue robot dancing with a mechanical slash digital robot. The tour of a normal day featuring extensive robotic interplay. A typical day starts with the alarm clock. Just this seemingly innocent fact links a person to a global system of time construction, time manufacturing, time processing, time management. Setting and obeying the alarm clock means accepting the intrinsic interlacing with a global system, meaning accepting one’s position as a player in the same game, on level playing field with the robotic alarm clock. Setting the alarm clock, organizing your agenda, living up to its input, linking you to other people’s time management, imprisons you voluntarily for hours in a day to globally arranged robotic time fabrication systems, both in terms of hardware and software. Then at the dawn of the day I switch on my espresso machine. The entire process of operating the machines to fabricate the cappuccino and to consume it chains me voluntarily for at least 15 minutes, to be repeated several times a day. Then I may take a shower, brush my teeth using the electric machine, and again I am linked to a very complex system of infrastructural water treatment installations, to a range of sanitary products, indirectly to some factories worldwide to produce them, to resellers that sell them to me, to advisors and dentists that advise me on my demand, again this links me in a robotic fashion to such sanitary environments. Should I go on? When analyzing a full day one is almost 100% intimately related to machines, to systems, to procedures. It is only the variety of crosslinking and entanglements with machines, systems and procedures in short with robotic environments that makes one feel self-determined. But in the end every citizen is ultimately full time dancing with machines and procedures. Who is the robot? The position I take here is both the analogue biological player and the mechanical and digital machine are bodies that are interacting with each other. Neither of them can live without the other. There is no life as we know it without being so intimately linked to mechanical and digital bodies, while the machined bodies can not exist and evolve without them being linked to analogue players. Living with products links you to the product industry, watching TV links you to the entertainment industry, using your cellphone links you to the ICT industry, sitting on a sofa links you to the domestic industry, paying your bills links you to the financial industry, driving your car links you to the automotive industry, living in your house links you to the building industry, walking on the pavement links you to the infrastructure industry, filling your gas tank is linking you to the energy industry, playing tennis links you to the leisure industry, there is virtually not a single moment in your life that you are not linked to people and things. There is a strong mutual independency between people on the one hand and things and systems on the other, which makes me believe that nature and products must be seen as one integrated ecosystem, where old and new nature are not seen as different ecosystems that are fighting each other. There will be no winners, no losers, only the further propagation and as of now unpredictable transcription of information. Taking it to the extreme, nature as we know it, enhanced with product life, may eventually evolve towards information in another disguise. We are temporary carriers and processing units of information, just like quarks, atoms and molecules. We are feeding an explosive increase of information content of the crust o the earth, eventually leading to popping out of the globe into deep interior and exterior space.
The Body Plan
Bodies have a plan, they evolve according to a plan, they live a lifecycle plan, they love it when a plan comes together, and eventually they fade out, are destroyed, or simply disappear. From here on I will focus on building bodies, and leave infrastructural and organizational bodies out of further considerations. How do building bodies come into existence, how are they constructed, how do they operate, and how do they survive or die? In earlier writings [Oosterhuis, Hyperbodies, Towards an Emotive Architecture, Birkhäuser 2003, ISBN 3-7643-6969-8] I have proposed to give any design proposal legal birthright as from the very first conceptual idea. Meaning that no one owns the design except the design and later the built building itself. The building design grows up to transform into an explicit, often physical identity, as a player in the fabric of the city, naturally with the right to “speak”. Un-built designs keep their ephemeral identity, and live their lives in the minds of people, in texts, in images. Hyperbodies grow according to a body plan, which is not a blueprint, but rather a genetic code, instructing simple rules of cell division and cell specification. Hyperbodies are informed bodies, similar to hypertext as an informed evolution from plain text, and hypersurfaces as digitally augmented surfaces of building bodies. As always symmetry plays an important role in the making of bodies according to their body plans. Although not noticed by architectural critiques, de facto all of my designs whether small or big Waterpavilion, our many housing projects, iWEB, A2 Cockpit, Bálna Budapest, LIWA tower are symmetrical in their basic layout. Only allowing for a local asymmetry when it comes to responding to specific local conditions. Sometimes rotational symmetry is used as in the Waterpavilion, where at one side the feature line of the fin goes up towards the nose, at the other side going up towards the connection with the alchemist style NOX sector, indicating where the openings are, the main side entrance and the emergency exit, both detailed as cutouts on the sides of the body and skin as to maintain the fluidity of the body. We see similar detailing in car bodies, where the door always embedded as a side entrance as to go with the flow is cut out from the body skin and the body structure. Understanding body plans and their inherent detailing is crucial to understand the nature of robotic environments,. I will explain why robotic buildings simply need body plans. As pointed out before, humans and their tools / vehicles have coevolved, whereas the evolution of humans mainly took place by enhanced connectivity to things and other people in their brains, by evolving language by labelling things and tools, since they already had the mobile body to free themselves from a fixed coordinate on earth. The coevolution means a mutual dependency of humans and their tools, vehicles, building bodies and societal systems. People spend most of their day connected to clothes, machines, tools, and de facto always connected to buildings and transport vehicles. Reviewing a day in the life, counting how much time you have spent brushing teeth, making coffee, listening to radio, sending email, driving car or bike, using keys to lock and unlock spaces / buildings, checking your cellphone for Facebook or Twitter, cooking food, get dressed, sit on chairs, tables, writing code, working with robots, drinking beer, perform differential calculations, you will feel how deeply one is embedded in the built environment. You are basically always interacting with some sort of system or machine. The systemic links between tools, factories, distribution channels, selling points, buyers, users and communities are so strong that using such a tool means being active part of that system. That global system of humans tools / vehicles / buildings interaction is a continuous operation, it never stops, the systemic components are always in the process of being made and always in the process of being used, therefore that system must be considered to be processing information , temporarily “on air” until it is replaced by a further evolved system.
Specification of components and spaces
The building components of the building body are the constituting cells of their bodies. They have evolved over a long period of time, and are getting smarter over time. Having left the period of structural brickworks far behind although some diehard old school architects still regret this we are now entering a phase in the building industry where the constituting building components are becoming smart informed components, both in the design process as in the fabrication process and in the process of operation. Building components have started to talk to each other, and some building components will be equipped with actuators as to act in real time on specific requests from externally and internally changing conditions. Smart in the design process means that the designs are programmed, scripted, generated, bred, co-created on the basis of open collaborative design systems. I have developed applications for climbing walls [Climbing Wall, ONL 2012] and acoustic ceilings [Acoustic Ceiling, ONL 2014]. These applications offer an open platform for designers and users alike to design their own climbing wall and their own acoustic ceiling, as long as they follow the simple rules as set by the designers of the parametric software. For the climbing wall and the acoustic ceiling the solution space for the designers is extended to include nonstandard complex geometries, therewith offering a maximum of design freedom for the co-creators. The nonstandard design paradigm is an inclusive approach, allowing for traditional rectangular designs as well. Each of the constituting components in such open design system is principally unique in its shape, dimensions and properties, such smart design component is “only that, only there, and only then”. The body as a result of the design process consists of thousands of such unique linked components. For example the A2 Sound Barrier [ONL, 2005] consists of 40.000 unique steel components and 10.000 unique plates of glass. Together they form the body of the structure that communicates freedom of expression and synthetic integrity at the same time.
Digital design to production
Bringing the discussion back to daily work, it is necessary to discuss the principles of the digital “design to production” and “design to operation” processes. Digital design to production means nothing less than a revolution in the building chain of built environments. Architecture will never be the same. Digital design to production is by definition based on code. Designing with code unravels new horizons both in the world of design as in the world of production. Taking advantage of the architecture of the CNC machine these machines read code, not drawings or 3d models an immediate relation between design and machine can be established. Writing code forms the basis for parametric design methods as well, meaning that a systemic design to production procedure paves the way for an unprecedented nonstandard, extreme customization of the design and production of the individual building components, the only limitation being the imagination of the designer and the physical constraints of the machines. Freedom of expression here does not imply extra costs, exactly the opposite is true in my designs, the design to production methods I have designed and executed have proven to be time efficient and cost-effective. The A2 Car showroom is built for a mere 750 €/m2, while the A2 sound barrier where the Cockpit building is embedded in, has been built for a mere 450 €/m2. All compo0nents different and yet competitive with the standard sound barrier as promoted by the Ministry of Infrastructure. The cost advantages are both in the design process, which literally saves 20% in each phase of the design process, from preliminary design to execution, and in the production process, while no information has to be redrawn and nothing gets lost in translation, that is two times for effective than a traditional linear chain of design, engineering, tendering, contracting and manufacturing process. Today’s CNC machine are capable of dealing with difference much more than is typically used by the designers. The machine really does not care whether it produces series of the same or series of unique components, it all depends on the code it is reading. The ultimate freedom of architectural expression can be disclosed when the designer produces code instead of using traditional (3d modeling, which is basically an optimization of a traditional linear design process, design techniques that need to be translated into code. Many possibilities are not taken into account or will get lost in translation, when not thinking as a programmer-designer. Clearly architectural programming must form the core of teaching during in courses and design studios at architectural schools from day one the high school students enter the faculties. This is what Hyperbody [TU Delft, 2000] has introduced since the establishment of the chair in 2000. Students will need to get acquainted with thinking like a programmer, to write code, and to instruct the machines in the most direct way possible. Designing and producing will naturally become an iterative creative process, where the design is almost instantly informed by the potential and constraints of the production [and operation] process.
The future of architecture is just this, precisely here and exactly now. The unique building components that together constitute the building body keep their unique identity over time, meaning that that they can be addressed in the design, production and operation process individually as to perform . Each building component is potentially an actuator, either processing data in an otherwise solid cell / component, or actuating the cell / component by changing its shape, dimension and / or performance. Actuating cells of the building body are relatively dumb, processing only a few simple algorithms, yet in sync with their immediate neighbors. The Hyperbody research group at TU Delft and ONL have designed and produced a wealth of interactive prototypes, all of them to considered today as robotic embodiments, realized decades before we referred to them as robotic installations. Now we consider these interactive installations robotic environments, as to fight the idea that the robots would look like humans and copy human behavior. Recently ONL’s NSA Muscle project was already archived in the CCA, the Center for Contemporary Architecture in Montreal, as part of a show curated by Greg Lynn [Archeology of the Digital, Media and Machines, exhibition in CCA Montreal, 2015]. ONL and Hyperbody have developed CNC driven design to production methods to realize in practice the complex geometry that gives shape to their design concepts. As demonstrated above, I consider existing buildings, also the most primitive adobe houses, as a simple form of a robotic environment, since they are processing materials, people and data without ever stopping to do so. Now when building components are no longer made of mud, brick or steel, and become tiny robotic environments in themselves operating as in a swarm, I suggest to label them emotive robotic embodiments as to differentiate from the static shells of the environment. These emotive robotic environments are so complex in their behavior that they are experienced by humans as living things, as emotive embodiments.
Society of robots
The word robot typically is used to indicate that something works, something that acts, functions in real time, something that is processing information. Now when we consider built environments as environments that work while processing data continuously and are composed of components that work while processing data in real time, we can rightfully state that we ourselves live as soft bots in a robotic world. A robotic world that is handmade robotic since millennia, machined robotic since centuries, and additionally programmed robotic in the 21st century. Whether we like it or not, we live in a society of robots and robotic systems and people are their coevolving teammates, living as embodied people in the Internet of Embodied Things.
*) Vision paper by Kas Oosterhuis originally written for the CCC Conference Emotive Embodiments at the TU Delft in CCC Conference in 2015.
Interview by Marwa Al Sabouni of the Arch-News portal from Homs, Syria. Marwa Al Sabouni is the author of “Battle for Home”.
Marwa Al Sabouni: You identify yourself as “Expert formerly known as the architect”, you also give lectures to students to introduce them to the term “information architect” how have the mission of the architect changed in our modern times; and is technology is the only cause for this shift in thought and related terminology regarding the profession of architecture?
Kas Oosterhuis: After having written my book Towards A New Kind Of Building [NAi Publishers, 2011], I asked myself publicly what exactly is the expertise of today’s architect? The easy answer is of course that there are many types of architects, but the question I wish to discuss here is if we should consider ourselves “generalists” or that we perhaps are professionals in a more specific field of expertise? The problem is that at my faculty at the TU Delft the dominant concept is indeed that of the generalist: hovering over all disciplines, the puppeteer who pulls the strings, the one who makes the end-decisions, the one who is top-down dictating the rules of the game. In our educational system the students are given the illusion that they will be the ones that decide. But I know from practice that the reality is different, there are many puppeteers who make important decisions on various fields of expertise, in a most complex way woven together as to develop the one-off product. It is my conviction that we all should respect each others expertise, including that of the climate designer, the structural designer, the quantity surveyor, the user, the client, the interaction designer, the material designer, I consider them all to be experts in their field. I want to work with them in a level playing field, that is why we are developing open collaborative design techniques as to work 1:1 with any other expert in any stage of the design to production and the design to operation process. Now we come to the question I have avoided as of yet: what then is my expertise and that of my team? The not so easy answer is: basically we are experts in the [digital, parametric] programming of the spatial interaction between the constituent components of the construct, be it a chair, an installation, a pavilion, a building, an urban scheme, or a work of art. As an important sub-expertise of ourselves at ONL and at Hyperbody TU Delft we are experts in the real time behavior of the constituent components, dealing with interactive architecture.
MAS: You are a well-known professor and professional expert in the field of architecture; teaching at the Delft University but also practice in both fields (academic and professional) in the Gulf region; where those two fields meet in your opinion?
KO: At the university I am a professor from practice, I bring in the experience, knowledge and skills from practice into the university. In practice I am often considered as a scientist, someone who wants to know exactly how things work, someone who is not satisfied with vague ideas, metaphors and illusions, but wants to see the proof of the concept. I start with coining a hypothesis, and then test it on all levels, from design to engineering to production to the actual usage of the building. If someone challenges the hypothesis with good arguments, I listen and adjust the design concept accordingly. I am reaching out for expert opinions from other experts. Likewise I develop a real opinion on things, step by step constructing my own scheme of things, my personal universe, which is partly emotional and partly rational. In this respect it helps a lot that my partner in life and business Ilona Lénárd is a visual artist, and looks at things from a different perspective. Since 1989 we have decided to join forces and dedicate our studio to the fusion of art and architecture on a digital platform. So it is not only a match between the academic and the practice, but very much the cross-disciplinary approach that characterizes our methods of working. Cross-disciplinary design requires empathy with the other, allowing the other to bring in their expertise and their emotions, and it requires to find ways and procedures to make the match without ending up with a half-baked compromise. This is the real challenge, how to set the rules of the collaborative design game such that the unfolding of the process generates surprising new insights.
MAS: The identification of beauty has been an area of philosophical investigation for a long time; today you are promoting a “new kind of beauty” how do you define beauty today? Namely, what are main characteristics and values of a beautiful object of the 21st century that are different from an older one?
KO: In my TEDx lecture in Delft [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tvsQLeSK-U] I challenged the audience to understand that we are changing your view on what’s beautiful. We also post that statement on our ONL website. The leading theme of my talk was the paradigm shift towards mass-customization as the logical further development of mass production. I am not criticizing mass production as such, since it brought our society where we find ourselves right now, but I challenge the production methods as to produce series of unique products, series of unique building components, potentially leading to a until now unseen natural magnificence of complexity. Complex but not complicated, since complexity is based on a well balanced set of simple rules. And mind you, such complexity based on mass-customized CNC design to production methods is no more expensive then regular mass produced buildings. The CNC machines, provided that they are given the proper data, do not care if they produce series of the same or series of unique elements, for the machine that is similar and requires therefore no more production time. Consistent application of mass customization thinking and production, and then I mean not only roofs but the building as a whole, lead to a thoroughly different aesthetics, where repetition of any kind will no longer be considered as beautiful or even functional, but rather as a remnant of past eras. the century which lies ahead of us will be dedicated to the beauty of continuous variation. The New Kind of Beauty is a natural beauty, radiating its inner beauty without having to compensate with extensive make-up.
MAS: Many of the modern works of architecture toady adopt what has become known as “Parametricisim”; do you think of parametrics as a distinctive architectural style or as a method of production? And how so?
KO: In fact the realized works based on parametric design methods are very scarce indeed. And when parametric design methods are used, they usually are confined to parts of a building, not to the whole, not in any of ZHA’s buildings, only taken to the full extent in some experimental pavilion designs, but even then mostly confined to a roofscape only. I must confess that I do not appreciate the term parametricism at all. First of all since parametric design exists since the early eighties of last century, second because I am against all -isms, I am looking for the real thing, not for derivatives. Maybe this is my Dutch background that I am looking for a deeper meaning, like what the painter Piet Mondrian was striving for in his quest for the universal. And third because I think the term parametricism narrows down the subject too much to a technique, an external appearance. The New Beauty encompasses much more than that, the idea of continuous variation by building relations between all constituent components must settle between the ears of the designer in all stages of the design until completion, in all conceptual assumptions and all procedural programming for an open design environment.
MAS: As an architect where do draw your inspiration from?
KO: My favorite reading is the magazine Scientific American, I draw much more inspiration from science an art exhibitions than from architectural magazines. the inspiration I draw from architecture is by going there and see the buildings themselves, not so much from looking at images. The only way to fully understand a building is to go and see it in real life, to feel the spatial lay-out, to touch the materials, and often to experience how much traditional effort it took as to produce the photogenic image. This is particularly true for interiors of ZHA and Gehry, whose designs create illusions of continuity, but which can only be achieved by many layers of traditional plasterwork, which is for me fully contradictory to the essence of design to production. Well designed buildings should be assembled using dry fixing methods, which is a big issue in the recyclability of the building. The modern car industry already guarantees all its components to be fully recyclable. You might have expected me to draw my inspiration from nature, but that is not really the case. On the other hand I wish to design our buildings such that it feels natural, not by copying external characteristics, but by a deeper understanding of how atoms group together to molecules, how molecules act together as to form proteins, how proteins flock together as to form muscles and bones. I am looking at quantum theory just as well as to natural physics on the universal scale. I want to understand how the smaller components work together to form larger consistent wholes, and how they read external environmental information. I see buildings as complex adaptive systems, as information processing vehicles, rather than as imitations of end-products of an organic nature.
MAS: It is noticeable in our modern world the major retreats of local identities do you think it is important to consider local identity in the work of architecture; More importantly is it achievable through this new design paradigm?
KO: My answer to your question is a clear yes. Relational design methods must be open to local pieces of information, local data sets, in other words to the very nature of local identities. I have always worked like that, trying to understand the spirit of the place rather than copying the obvious external appearances. We were very pleased with the name our client Abdullah Al Nasser Mansoori gave to our office tower in the Capital Centre district in Abu Dhabi. He named the tower after the LIWA desert, obviously because he was born and raised in the LIWA desert, but surely also because he recognized the gentle curves of the ridges of the dunes as caused by the prevailing winds, and the color scheme, which we chose to avoid the building to look dirty after a sand storm. So there was reference to basic climatic conditions and available technology, but not a superficial resemblance. We did not look at the impressive reddish dunes at the Empty Quarter and thought that we should make the building look like that. Not at all, that has been the lucky marriage of an intuitive empathy and rational reasoning in combination with available mass-customization technology.
MAS: Is the use of term “scripting” instead of “drawing” only a matter of keeping up with modernization of the terminologies of technology; or does it hold an ontological underlying meaning to it? Can you explain more to us?
KO: My team at ONL produces only drawings as derived from a 3d model to get the approval of the authorities, since they need to literally stamp the drawings for approval. For all other purposes, the design development itself, the design to production procedures, for the interaction with other experts we do not produce drawings at all. We are very careful to avoid producing 2D drawings and fancy renderings since they are in essence a dead-end street, a derivate from the real information. You can not make comments on a drawings and then feed it back to the 3d model, it is double work and too much gets lost in translation. To make it clear for you how we work, we are not clicking together 3d models either, we program them, on a variety of software platforms like Visual Basic, Autolisp routines, Rhinoscript, Maxscript, Processing, Grasshopper, Pro-Engineer. At Hyperbody we programmed our interactive installations in Nemo / Virtools game development program, and using Max MSP to control the sensor data. Basically using those more recently developed softwares platforms is writing code via a graphic user interface. Some of our nerds take it as a challenge to write code directly, in Python or Unity. So you see how deeply rooted working on a digital platform is for us, and bear in mind that it a pure requisite for being to realize buildings like the LIWA tower for a normal budget of a commercial building.
MAS: You have built major buildings in the UAE such as the Capital Centre in Abu Dhabi and Dubai Sports City in Dubai 2007, beside the aspects of passive design based on the informed data of climate and location; how are these buildings different or distinctive from other projects of yours around the world?
KO: Now your referring to local climatic and/or cultural conditions again. The interesting thing is that we would never have the chance to propose such distinctive designs as LIWA tower or Sport City tower [not realized] in The Netherlands, since there we suffer from a combination of a typical Dutch attitude of acting “normal”, with an absolute dominance of OMA’s ironic modernistic aesthetics. As you know OMA / Rem is quite influential in my country, having produced so many clones, almost half of the younger leading architects in The Netherlands have worked for a while in OMA’s office, and have been deeply influenced by their journalistic, modernistic, retroactive, assumed witty and ironic attitude. As you know, Rem criticizes the iconic repeatedly, and frankly that is not good for us. As a sort of collateral damage, our logic of mass-customization is not widely appreciated by Dutch architectural critics, who are voluntarily subordinated to their dominant turbo language, using superlatives for almost anything. It is exemplary that our A2 Cockpit building – although appreciated by almost anyone who passes by or buys a car there – has not received any direct follow-up in The Netherlands in terms of new commissions. I am not complaining, we do what we do and we do it without any resentment, but this observation would serve well as an answer to your question.
MAS: For many centuries architects had gave their own interpretations of nature and universe including the human body and the human input into the world around him, today’s architectural orientation is more about the way than the form; do you agree on that, and if so, why do you think this focus on the way of form have become more important than the form itself?
KO: I see the design process as to get to the finished product as a collaborative effort on a level playing field by a swarm of experts, exchanging lean data sets in real time as to achieve the higher goal of improving our built environment. This does not mean that each individual expert may not have explicit opinions in their own field of expertise, in fact I require them to have such strong opinions. I request from a structural designer or a climatic designer that [s]he has an opinion on the structure, that [s]he know more than I do. Personally I strive for a balance between a bottom-up process and top-down opinions. I think this is the very nature of any natural body as well. Each organism receives top-down information from its environment, processes that information on the basis of its own genetic rules, and sends out edited information back to its environment. For us it works in a similar way for design processes. Yes, we design the design process much more than in earlier days, we jump into the process, we navigate the process like a gardener as was stated by the musician Brian Eno, but at the same time we develop strong conceptual ideas, which function as external information fed top-down into the design process, to test it against all odds. In conclusion I do not favor the process over the formal outcome, I am not interested in a process that produces indifferent outcomes, which is by the way the very reason we hate the term “blobs” as coined by Greg Lynn when referring to complexity in architecture. Blobs are indifferent in their shape, while my designs are highly stylized [think of car body styling], relational yet explicit, flexible yet distinctive, precise and intentional, yet the outcome of a collaborative open design process.
MAS: What is your advice for young architects in the region?
KO: Educate yourself, learn programming skills, train your intuition, join discussion forums, and go for it. I think the secret for success for younger architects is to position yourself as a team player, having explicit skills, preferably programming skills yourself, and be open for collaboration with other experts of other fields of expertise on a digital platform. Position yourself as an information architect, controlling the data sets of the geometry of the project as to establish a direct connection between the design and the CNC production. Think design strategies that rely largely on CNC production techniques and on dry assembly techniques, as to secure a lean and green sustainable design and production process, and as to secure the sustainability of the life-cycle of the building, thus avoiding double work and waste in any phase of the project. Optimize for complexity and multiplicity, not for mass production.
MAS: Your recent project LIWA Tower in Abu Dhabi has quickly become a landmark in the area, was this a main concern of yours in the design process and how could it achieve this from your point of view?
KO: For some reason many of our designs have achieved the status of a landmark, without the explicit intention to become one, they stand out on the basis of their strong internal logic. I think it is in the nature of our rare approach of the fusion of art, architecture and technology on a digital platform that inevitably produces landmark structures. Sometimes people experience our work work as hermetic because it represents a new paradigm and hence constructs a parallel universe in itself, rather than using a common language such as modernism, deconstructivism, rationalism, historicism, high-tech, regionalism, post-modernism, or parametricism. Another often heard comment is that our designs need a lot of space around them, which bias we have effectively challenged with the design and the realization of the Bálna mixed use centre in the historic city centre of Budapest. The Bálna shows that we can weave the new nonstandard paradigm in an existing city fabric without destroying the charm of the old, while adding a strong new element to it.
MAS: We at Arabic Gate for Architectural News have launched recently an architectural initiative called “Rebuilding Destroyed Cities” in response to the unfortunate destruction that many of the world’s cities are witnessing whether by nature or man-made; and as you may know many of the cities in the middle east have met sad cases of mass destruction lately; in your opinion how should architects look at those cities; as a tabula rasa that should be built from ground zero or should they built on certain foundation, and if the latter is true; what should the main strategy for rebuilding be about?
KO: I am not really authorized to give a well funded advise for such urgent and very unfortunate situations of mass-destruction. My hunch would be, but I would not be able to verify after having visited those ruined areas, that I would opt for a balanced mix between literally rebuilding the once existing and adding fresh new structures. Complete rebuilding the old may leads to boring cities that feel more dead than alive, while the tabula rasa is not an option for many societal reasons. One will need to bridge the gap between the city one remembers and the unknown future. I believe the most importance issue that one has to deal with is the structure of ownership. Who owns the plot of land, is there enough diversity of ownership to guarantee the diversity of the newly built structures? If there is one dominant owner, for example the city itself, than I would suggest to divide the larger plots into smaller ones as to evolve the multiplicity and variation any city needs to become a desirable place to live an work. A balanced mix of houses to live and places to work is mandatory for a livable city. Strong architectural characters can be imagined from scratch, others can be rebuilt from memory, both attitudes should get a chance.
In 2006 ONL has won the design for the Al Nasser Headquarters tower in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates via an invited international competition. The client Mr Al Nasser owns a steel company and has chosen ONL´s iconic design, by far the most challenging of the competition entries, as he liked the exposed nonstandard steel structure inside and the metal duotone finishing of the exterior facade panels. Only in the final design stage the client as represented by Northcroft Middle East realized that all steel components and all windows are indeed different in shape and dimensions. They were fascinated by this fact but at the same time worried if this would be feasible within the strictly commercial budget they had defined for this project. Thanks to the precise control ONL successfully has monitored on the data as extracted from the Revit BIM model they were convinced that it was feasible indeed. The smart BIM model has served many purposes. In the first place ONL appointed no more then one single highly skilled architect, the young Gijs Joosen MSc, to be the executive architect and the BIM modeller in one. No information was lost in translation. The BIM model allowed for tweaking the curvatures of the shape of the office tower until the requested maximum GFA was reached, while maintaining the uniqueness of all constituting components and the unique configurations of each office floor. Any change in the curvature affects the square footage of each floor and hence the allowed GFA. Furthermore it facilitated to communicate with high precision with the local architects ACG who were responsible for acquiring the building permit and responsible for the calculations of the steel structure. The Al Nasser HQ is now under construction and will be finished in 2013.
PS: the building is now renamed into the LIWA tower
In summer 2007 ONL, together with the Hungarian project developer Porto Hungary Kft, has won an international tender to build a cultural mixed use center in the heart of the Pest side of Budapest, on a truly unique location at the banks of the Danube. The nonstandard design includes the conversion of the old Közraktárak warehouses, and completes it with a bold new structure, jutting out southbound towards new developments along the river. The building is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2010. The design stands out as an uncompromising nonstandard design. The notion of nonstandard was already promoted by a small but influential cultural elite in Budapest in the first decade of 21st century, I was interviewed for the magazines Atrium and Octogon. There were also designs developed for Budapest by other players in the international arena, there was a kidney shaped office building by Zaha Hadid for Tervita Square and another office building design by Asymptote in the odd form of two giraffe blockheads. These projects stranded because of their financial and urban arrogance, ignoring local rules and commercial financial constraints. I did not fall into that trap, since I respected the urban guidelines and the available budget. I was able to develop a feasible nonstandard design within these severe constraints. One of the strongholds of the success formula was the Building Information Model that was modeled in Revit, allowing to work in real time connected work groups in ONL´s Budapest and Rotterdam offices. Eventually ONL was rewarded the Autodesk Revit Experience Award in fall 2008, by and large because the complex triangulated mesh was successfully imported in the otherwise starched parametric Revit software and used to model the steel structure. One person in Budapest would control all concrete components, another the old warehouses, a third all installations, while in Rotterdam the complexity of nonstandard geometry was controlled. The four work groups updated their work on a daily basis. Instant updating was in principle possible but would have taken too much transmitting time, and hence would have slowed down the work. Autodesk was happy with the achievements, which made them decide to obtain one of the CET renders in the opening window of Revit version 2010, also appearing on the cover of the Revit 2010 CD cassette.
A typical procedure in VAA.ONL / Hyperbody designs is to define the feature lines of the whole structure first, then define the point cloud of reference points, and then augment the points with further details for the physical nodes. The data produced by the Grasshopper scripts are directly used for the CNC production of the constituting building components. The Haarrijn sound barrier features s dense stainless steel mesh along the A2 side and 6mm solid natural aluminium plates at the other side. As in all VAA.ONL designs all sides are considered to be front sides, and are treated as such. For the Haarrijn project we have taken the responsibility for the structural design as well. In collaboration with Arcadis we have set up an immediate link between the geometry of the designer and the caculations of the structural engineer. One of the clues for the evolutionary success of synthetic architecture is the direct link in the early design process between the most relevant disciplines. In the Haarrijn project we took the initiative to set up the direct link between our Grasshopper file and the structural engineers SCIA file. Grasshopper exports coordinates and other on beforehand agreed data to XML. SCIA reads the XML file, changes some data on the basis of the calculations, and exports the new data to XML which are read again by Grasshopper. This direct facilitates an intense feedback loop between designer [geometry] and engineer [calculation]. the feedback loop is itinerated many times as to reach the optimum in kg´s steel, number of nodes, foundation frequency and costs.