CumInCAD is a Cumulative Index about publications in Computer Aided Architectural Design
supported by the sibling associations ACADIA, CAADRIA, eCAADe, SIGraDi, ASCAAD and CAAD futures

id acadia12_269
authors Lally, Sean
year 2012
title Architecture of an Active Context
source ACADIA 12: Synthetic Digital Ecologies [Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA) ISBN 978-1-62407-267-3] San Francisco 18-21 October, 2012), pp. 269-276
summary As we stand with our feet on earth’s outermost surface we build an architecture today that is much like it was several thousand years earlier, in an attempt to extend that outer shell with one of our own making. Artificial masses are built from a refinement of this existing geologic layer into materials of stone, steel, concrete, and glass that assemble to produce new pockets of space through the buildings they create. However, the sixth century BC writer Thales of Miletus put a different perspective on this: he insisted that we live, in reality, not on the summit of a solid earth but at the bottom of an ocean of air (Holmyard 1931). And so, as architecture continues to build up the outermost layer of earth’s surface through a mimicking, embellishing, and enhancing of the materials which it comes from, it raises the question of why we have not brought a similar relationship to the materialities at the bottom of this “ocean” of air to create the spaces we call architecture. If you were looking to level a complaint with the architectural profession, stating that it has not been ambitious enough in scope would not be one. Architects have never shied away from the opportunity to design everything from the building’s shell to the teaspoon used to stir your sugar in its matching cup. But it would seem that the profession has developed a rather large blind spot in terms of what it sees as a malleable material with which to engage. Architects have made assumptions as to what is beyond our scope of action, refraining from engaging a range of material variables due to a belief that the task would be too great or simply beyond our physical control. So even though we are enveloped by them continuously, both on the exterior as well as the interior of our buildings, it must be assumed that the particles, waves, and frequencies of energy that move around us are thought by architects to be too faint and shaky to unload upon them any heavy obligations, that they are too unwieldy for us to control to create the physical boundaries of separation, security, and movement required of architecture. This has resulted in a cultivated set of blinders that essentially defines architecture as a set of mediation devices (surfaces, walls, and inert masses) for tempering the environmental context it is situated in from the individuals and activities within. The spaces we inhabit are defined by their ability to decide what gets in and what stays out (sunlight, precipitation, winds). We place our organizational demands and aesthetic opinions on the surfaces that mediate these variables rather than seeing them as available for manipulation as a building material on their own. The intention here is to recalibrate the materialities that make up that environmental context to build architecture. The starting point is a rather naive question: can we design the energy systems that course in and around us daily as an architectural material so as to take on the needs of activities, securities, and lifestyles associated with architecture? Can the variables that we would normally mediate against instead be heightened and amplified so as to become the architecture itself? That which many would incorrectly dismiss as simply “air” today—thought to be homogeneous, scale-less, and vacant due in part to the limits of our human sensory system to perceive more fully otherwise—might tomorrow be further articulated, populated, and layered so as to become a materiality that will build spatial boundaries, define activities of individuals and movement, and act as architectural space. Our environmental context consists of a diverse range of materials (particles and waves of energy, spectrum of light, sound waves, and chemical particles) that can be manipulated and formed to meet our needs. The opportunity before us today is to embrace the needs of organizational structures and aesthetics by designing the active context that surrounds us through the material energies that define it.
keywords Material energies
series ACADIA
type normal paper
email seanlally@gmail.com
full text file.pdf (251,551 bytes)
references Content-type: text/plain
details citation check to select
100%; open Holmyard, E. J (1931) Find in CUMINCAD Makers of Chemistry , p121. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kuhn, T. S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 52–55

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