In one day in spring 2010 Ilona and I went to see the TGV station of Santiago Calatrava in Liège and the Centre Pompidou dependance in Metz. Although at first sight applying similar technologies, the contrast between the two buildings could not be more dramatic. Both buildings have cost a fortune, but were both buildings worth it? A Belgium architect has declared that Calatrava is a bank robber, since the building of the TGV station turned out to be overly expensive. Now I have been there, I see that it must have been expensive, but I think it is worth it, since it represents in all its pores an image of clarity and consistency. I expect that the building is fit for a long life and an that it will be respected as an inspiring intervention in the otherwise decaying city fabric of Liege. No doubt that Liege will benefit from it in the long run. The structure itself is a convincing example of the integration of design and structure, of visual lightness and structural performance, a structure that encourages an elevated stroll. The design is undoubtedly following a functional logic, a structure featuring a large free span of the roof and a delicate dimensioning and detailing of the shops and the cafe´s in the underpass, where the public can literally feel the structure and the materials from very close. Being there makes you feel being part of a documentary movie, as if one is an active player negotiating with the movements of the trains, monitoring the come and go of the cars to and from the parking garage. The flow of people and the feature lines of the design are merged in beauty. One can not but physically feel the real time motion interlaced with the frozen dynamics.
Seen from a distance a recent Gehry building may look like a sculpture. But when approaching that Gehry building, any Gehry building, from the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to the Stata Center in Boston, the building becomes uncomfortably more and more traditional. Finally when entering the building via the entrance there is not much special about it. You enter through a regular mass produced facade, through regular doors, built up with regular profiles, be it in the deconstructivist way brutally cut off at varying angles. Decon as usual, nothing nonstandard about it. I appreciate Gehry Technologies [GT] for their great Digital Project [DP] software, but even Jim Glymph of GT told me back in 1998 that he was admiring the awesome achievements concerning the design and execution of the Saltwater Pavilion at Neeltje Jans. DP was created to rebuild Gehry´s wrinkled and distorted silver paper models into something manageable and buildable. When the starting point of a design concept remains rooted in old concepts, the realized building will communicate in the first place the outdated concept and not the new technology, there will always be an inconvenient friction between the designer´s concept and the contractor´s execution. When there is not established a direct link between BIM and CNC the execution can be done, but it will not be consistent, it will cost an unproportionally large sum of money and is hence a threat for the truly nonstandard designers who seriously strive for the unbroken link from their generative design concept using parametric modeling in the earliest design phases to a proper CNC manufacturing procedure.
At first sight the roof of the shopping center in the Palaisquartier in Frankfurt has the looks of a nonstandard structure. But look carefully, the detail is welded with very low precision. In the design stage there was the nonstandard concept design of the renowned Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas, there had been an intentional 3d wireframe mesh, but it was erroneously not executed using a precisely controlled CNC production process. Apparently the steel structure was manually drawn in 3d, not generated by scripts as it should have been. Many of the steel components were cut to length on site, the pieces were welded together on site in an extremely brutal fashion. I feel obliged to show this example for educational reasons, not to blame anyone in this project, not the architect, not the engineer, not the manufacturer. But it is obvious that something went wrong. The link between the file and the factory was broken. There should have been an immediate link from a scripted high precision detail to the with high precision CNC produced components, to be dry assembled on site with zero tolerance. It should absolutely have been avoided to be welded on site since that introduces so much imprecision. Unfortunately, I have experienced a similar problem while building the CET in Budapest. In much the same way that the construction designs of the Bird´s Nest and the Water Cube in Beijing have been compromised by a traditional construction approach, also the execution of the CET has regrettably been subject to old school construction methods. The problem is how to secure a sustainable nonstandard design and building process. The solution is to secure an unbroken link from BIM to CNC production to dry montage of the unique pieces of the 3d puzzle. Breaking the direct link, that is not transmitting the exact data from the “design” phase into the “build” phase of the design & build process, is a recipe for putting back innovation in the building industry.
The protoSPACE lab 2.0 in the iWEB had to close down due to the 2008 fire, which destroyed the Faculty of Architecture. In Spring 2010 we opened protoSPACE 3.0 inside the walls of a new BK City. In the 2009 MSc2 course Hyperbody students and ONL architects designed a new protoSPACE 4.0 lab, a standalone pavilion between BK City and the Delft Science Centre. For protoSPACE 4.0 we developed a complete new building system based on an assemblage of large unique CNC produced building blocks. The prototypical building block we named protoCELL. The parametric protoCELL unit comes in a series of interacting function-specific swarms: daylight swarm, artificial light swarm, ventilation swarm, interaction swarm, heating swarm, display swarm. Each featured swarm consists of 10-20 parametric building components. The different swarms interact in a loose configuration, intermingling the specified functional units, but never betraying to which swarm one belongs. the units are CNC milled from polystyrene foam and coated with a strong polyurea skin. All building blocks of all swarms are structural as well as provide for insulation. The hundred large building blocks of the proposed protoSPACE 4.0 fit together like the unique pieces of a 3d puzzle. The gravity center of the units form the point cloud of reference points. The reference points are further specified as to form the details of the geometric relations between the units. Each reference points thus becomes a group of parametric related points.
003 Swarm of birds
Everyone has once been amazed to see how birds are flocking in the air. Much has been said about the simpe rules the birds are executing when flocking. The birds are constantly aware of their neighbours, avoid collision, keeping agreed distance, adapting to the neighbours direction, striving at a more central position in the flock. Their flocking behaviour has been modelled in simple computer graphics, back in 1986 Craig Reynolds [red3d.com]made a computer model of animal motion, scripting the rules for the creatures he named boids, based on three dimensional computational geometry. Why then are we interested in boids and swarms of birds. Why did I introduce the term swarm architecture back in 2001 during the first Game Set and Match Conference I organised at the TU Delft [hyperbody.nl]? My objective has been clear from the beginning: I wished then and still wish now to identify all possible building components as interacting elements building up bi-directional relations with each other. The idea of behaviour intrigued me because it would lay the foundations for an archtecture that is not static but animated in real time. Animated not as was described by Greg Lynn in his book Animated Form , who de facto claimed his license to kill the animation, but animated in its purest meaning, keeping the structure informed, much like the flock of birds. I concluded that there is no meaning in freezing the motion, I realized we needed to use actual ICT technology to sustain the information flow throughout the complete life-cycle of the built structure.
002 Point Cloud Acoustic Barrier / A2 Cockpit
In 1998 we got commissioned by Nora Hugenholtz of Projectbureau Leidsche Rijn the design of a 1.6 km long acoustic barrier along the A2 highway, and we were asked to think about how to represent the commercial firms behind the barrier. We applied the strategy of multiple use of the ground, and proposed to embed a substantially bi building in the very volume of the barrier. In fact we considered the barrier and the A2 Cockpit building – as we proposed to brand it – as one continuous structure, only to pump up its volume where it was needed. Intuitively we combined many strategies into one coherent structure. Only because we described the project conceptually as one unified entity, we could take the logical consequence and develop one organizational structure for the whole project, including the flattened and cantilevering endings and the expanded Cockpit bubble. We came up with the concept to establish a point cloud of thousands of reference points. The points featured an exact position in space, which enabled us to write a script describing all constituting building components with high precision. It was unprecedented at that time, and still is unique that an architect actually controls the complex geometry in such high precision that the manufacturer – Meijers Staalbouw – can use the architect’s data for the CNC production. All components, steel, glass and rubber are customized to the extreme. Each and every component is different in its dimensions and its shape. The radical file to factory [F2F] process of mass customization was born. We have applied it ever since.
It is summer 2010, and it is only 14 years since I got my first cell phone using the GSM network, and it is only 16 years since I got my first email adress at the Well in Sausalito near San Francisco, a start up company run by Kevin Kelly. My first cell phone I used when we run the paraSITE project in Rotterdam, my first use of the Internet in 1994 to cater the multidisciplinary event Sculpture City. We were early movers among the international population of architects, simply because we were interested to apply new technologies in our profession. I purchased my first pc, the notorious Atari 1024ST, around 1988. I used it to model in 3d my design for the Theo van Doesburg exhibition in the Museum Boymans van Beuningen. Meanwhile Ilona used the Atari to sketch intuitively, exploring early 3d programs like STAD3D. During the years 1988 and 1989 we lived and worked one year in Meudon, in the atelier Theo van Doesburg. Before we came I purchased a fax-telephone machine, which did cost me more then 3000 HFL at that time, to communicate with the AA in London where I was unit master for Intermediate Unit 12 and with my client Evert van Straaten for the Doesburg exhibition in Rotterdam. As from late eighties and beginning of nineties of the last century we got networked with the world via Internet, cell phones and fax machines. We knew instinctivily that we needed to explore the potential of our new condition for art and architecture, which inspired us to organize a series of events: Artificial Intuition in Galerie Aedes in Berlin and TU Delft , Synthetic Dimension and Global Satellite in the Zonnehof in Amersfoort , Sculpture City in Rotterdam and the Internet , Genes of Architecture in Rotterdam, Vienna, Budapest and Berlin . After having experienced the promise of ICT in architecture and art, Ilona and I decided to build our practice of the fusion of art and architecture on a digital platform, enabling us to exchange information and raw data with many other disciplines, like composers, engineers, graphic designers. We felt that we just got to do it, as we know now, well ahead of our times.