GSD Talks | Technologies of Design: Eric Höweler

OK. I think I’m going to try
to get started because it looks like it’s 10 past. So my name’s Eric Howeler. I’m an assistant
professor here at the GSD. And I’m currently on leave, so
I’ve been keeping my head down. But I have been
working for the GSD. I was just in Chicago
organizing a conference called Adaptive Architectures
and Smart Materials. And as a result
of that, the dean asked me to share some
of that information with you, because it was a
fantastic event in Chicago, and we try to sort of bring
some of that back here. The other thing I should
say is that I teach studio at the GSD, second
year typically. I also teach
construction systems class, which some of
you were in my class. So a lot of those things
that sort of informed the conference in Chicago
and some other things I’m going to show today were sort
of developed in that class. And in a way, even though
it’s an introductory class, some of those ideas sort
of evolved from that. So I should also say,
a couple years ago I got a grant from
the dean’s office for junior faculty research,
and I researched the future and history of glass. And some of that also
kind of informed this. So the talk is
Technologies for Design. And it’s the first– I’m going
to talk– is that all right? I’m going to talk a little
bit about Merck and GSD. And what happened was
a couple years ago, I was contacted by Merck,
the German pharmaceutical, chemical, and life
sciences company, to do some design research. And they said, well, we’ve got
these interesting products. We’re thinking about how to
translate liquid crystals and display technologies
from the device world into the architectural world. And that was a pretty
interesting challenge. And we helped them
sort of visualize what the impact of this could
be at an architectural and urban scale. They liked that, and
then they thought, how do we sort of
engage with the broader architectural community? And so they proposed this
kind of Merck GSD technologies for building initiative. So Merck is actually
giving money to the GSD for an initiative to talk
about building materials, and how that could impact
architecture and urbanism. So at first, you
think about Merck, you think about
pharmaceuticals, chemicals. And you think, what do those
guys know about architecture? And how might that research
apply to what we do? Because they just seem
like two worlds apart. And thinking about
that and trying to figure out how to
bridge this world, it occurred to me that
we think about materials for architecture. We think about mud and
we think about stone. We think about
tools and wood, how we can sort of push the limits
of materials in architecture. And Merck comes at it from
a different point of view. They look at the
architecture of materials. They look at the kind
of chemical level, the kind of molecular
level of materials. And what they’ve been looking
at is performance materials, smart materials,
liquid crystals. And the fact is that
pretty much everybody has some Merck in their pocket. They supply liquid crystals for
all of your display devices. So all your smartphones,
all your TVs, all your computers have
Merck inside of them. And this technology which
allows glass to become display is what they’re
interested in looking at, how that can inform
architecture, so how that technology
could impact architecture. And some of the
research we did was looking at some of these
technologies– you know, glass– already has so
many dynamic qualities. But with this liquid
crystal, glass becomes all of a sudden
variable in its optics. It can go from almost opaque
to almost transparent. And looking at that as a
product and thinking about, how could we use that to sort
of unlock the possibilities for architecture was sort of
what we were tasked with doing. So first we sort of
looked at the material, and what could
liquid crystal do? These are some of the
sort of display samples that you could sort of
use it as a touch sensor. You could use it
as an interface. You could think about how
it would change over time. And if you scale that up
to the scale of a facade, the possibilities
are pretty exciting. But before we did that we
sort of said, wait a minute. What is glass at the
sort of basic level? And it’s a container. It’s an instrument,
an optical instrument. It’s an environment. It’s an atmosphere. It’s an interface
or an accessory. It’s architecture or
a brand or a fetish. But we sort of reminded
Merck that architecture has been sort of part of
architecture for a long time. Architecture’s always
sort of enlisted architectural materials
for atmospheric effects. And if you think about a Gothic
cathedral and the role of glass in that, it’s an
architecture of persuasion. It’s an architecture that is
a special effects machine. And so it’s no
surprise that if you look at the history of modern
architecture, the use of glass was used to evoke a
kind of Utopian vision. Colored class associated
with spirituality, associated with transparency,
democracy, and so on, was part of the kind of
imagery of the modern movement. And in 1926, Mies was
sort of visualizing a kind of future architecture
30 years before it was technically possible. So it was highly speculative. Mies also imagined
these interfaces between inside and outside,
between man and nature as this kind of almost
nothingness, this kind of surface and interface. And I like to say that building
technologies and materials produce side effects. They produce cultures. And the window produces
the culture of seeing. And the culture of
seeing has ripples throughout popular culture. So the scene from
Rear Window where he’s looking through this window
at his neighbor unwittingly becomes a witness to a murder. So the culture of
seeing is somehow tied to the question
of the window and to the building technology. At the same time
it sort of produces cultures of consumption. Window shopping, the
kind of urban window, the kind of urban life that’s
seen through the window. So the kind of banal,
everyday object, the kind of products
that we might specify, all of a sudden I try to sort
of expand it and think about it as a kind of cultural artifact
that produces modern life, that produces urban life. So digging a little
bit– and some people that were in my class
will see some of these and remember them,
because they’re sort of familiar–
I’m always struck by these birds on the
Neue Nationalgalerie. Gallery. Because Mies wants
them to go away. He wants everything to go away. Yet the bird still
sort of persists. It still sort of
marks that surface. And sort of, in a way, undoes
the kind of nothingness that Mies sort of sought. And the other presence in
the Neue Nationalgalerie is the question of condensation. And so even though
it wants to go away, even though Mies would
like it to be nothing, it’s still something. And it’s still an
atmosphere apart, and it’s subject to the rules
of dew point and condensation and so on. So the condensation
sort of drizzling down the face of the
Neue Nationalgalerie sort of insists on the
kind of material presence of the envelope, its kind
of stubborn presence, and reminds us of its role
actually as an atmosphere. The role of glass in
contemporary architecture, we do see practices
organized around issues of viewing, framing,
sort of controlling the reception of nature, the
reception of place or site. And architecture
persists in using glass as a material for framing views
of landscape, for example. And the presence of
the glass is not, I think, completely
acknowledged. But if we think about questions
of energy, as we do at the GSD, and questions of, you
know, local energy effects like the urban
heat island effect, we understand that glass and
energy are somehow at odds. We look at cities like Phoenix. The use of glass in this context
seems sort of counterintuitive. And if we look at the kind
of explosion of construction in certain contexts,
we have to wonder if glass is an appropriate
material in these places. So the kind of architectural
dream, the kind of mythology of glass, the kind of
economics of glass, that’s sort of running up
against the kind of fact that, how can a glass building
be considered green? One Bryant Park won
all kinds of awards. It’s leed platinum or something. But it’s still an
all glass building. Which from a kind of solar
heat gain point of view you might wonder, well,
how could that be? It doesn’t seem to make sense. One Bryant Park, looking
closely at the facade we see the kind of frit pattern
that masks the spandrel, that tries to sort of blur
the line between vision and spandrel glass
and sort of mediate the impact of the [inaudible]
heat gain condition. So think about Merck and
what they have as a product. And the role of
architecture is this kind of interface between
inside-outside between individuals, between
individuals, users, occupants, and their environment. I sort of went back and
I looked a little bit at, what is the window, really? And this is an image
of a TV in a window and people watching
TV through the window. And if you look at
ads for TVs, you often think of the TV as a window. And so I thought
it was interesting that Merck is coming
and saying, we’ve got this TV technology we
want to put in your window. Could we turn your window
into a display device with the same technology? So that seems super
exciting to speculate about how that would transform
facades from simply envelopes into sort of
communicating surfaces, heat regulating surfaces,
all kinds of exciting ideas. So looking at their
technology, they’re looking at liquid
crystal technology. It has benefits
in terms of speed and switching range, dimming,
all kinds of good stuff. But I think beyond a kind
of technical description, I think the consequence
would be more at the scale of architecture
as sort of urban face, as a kind of facade. What happens to the
facade of architecture once it’s all glazed, once it
becomes kind of a communicating surface? And looking again at the
moments within architecture that glass is utilized
for these functions, these are the images
of the Farnsworth House that we’d like to look at. This is an image of
the Farnsworth House when nobody was looking. The blinds are drawn
for privacy, probably for heat gain. This other image with the
kind of roll-down shades. This sort of undoes
the aspirational image of what this
building wants to be. And you don’t have to look far. The Flatiron Building
at a certain moment was covered with awnings. This is solar controlled
in a very basic, very straightforward way. So some of these
things, we’ve sort of forgotten about when
we design buildings. Solar control is such
a necessary condition. Mies– I mean, Gorb also
found out the hard way with his Salvation Army
building on the left. The original taut, neutralizing
skin, hermetically sealed on the right, retrofitted with
[inaudible] to sort of control the impact of the sun on
that west facing facade. And so what are the sort of
tools that architects use to control heat gain? So Foster’s Willis Faber &
Dumas building in Ipswich, one of the first
sort of all glass, patch fitting buildings
uses tinted glass, right? So this building at
nighttime looks awesome. In the daytime it looks so dark. It looks solid and impenetrable. So tinting glass
is one mechanism for controlling heat gain. And I always love this slide
from an old curtain wall ad where the kind of tinting
and the reflectivity is something that’s
sort of being played with in the glasses
of the police officer. So strong, reliable,
good under pressure. Other tool is reflectivity. Architects have
used reflectivity sometimes in a kind
of banal way to create sort of generic stuff. And in some cases, like this
Barkow Leibinger building, a highly speculative way
to return the building into a kind of kaleidoscope
sort of special effects machine. Other examples of reflectivity
have used it, I think, in different ways to create
different architectural effects. And then architecture
side effects, right? That Walkie Talkie
building that famously melted the car, that’s
reflectivity sort of gone awry. Other strategies for
an all glass building, like the Seattle
Public Library, you should know that as
an all glass building it’s gaining lots of
heat, even in Seattle. And so the architects
understood the structure as a kind of shading device. But also embedded within the
glass is a kind of micro mesh that does regulate heat
gain on the faces that actually see the sun. So there’s a
permanent, adapted way to regulate heat
on this building. All the faces that see the
sun have the micro mesh to control that
heat gain question. And because it’s my
lecture, I can slip this in. This is a little project
that we did that makes place through controlling sun. Shade in Phoenix is
the way to make place. So we designed a kind of
sun shading structure. It actually harvests
some energy from the sun and also sort of plays
that back in the nighttime. So shading, fixed shading,
sort of specifically selective of points of view
of sun angles to create place in Phoenix. One of my favorite examples,
Jean Nouvel’s Institute de Monde Arabe in Paris,
famously deployed an aperture, sort
of kinetic aperture, which had many effects. I think it created an incredible
sort of pattern on the facade. When it worked, it
actually regulated the light sort of
coming in and out, and produced these kind
of incredible shadows in the interior. That sort of recalled
Islamic pattern making traditions
of the architecture he was referring to. So upgrading on many levels. And other strategies like
Sejima’s Toledo Art Pavilion, Toledo Art and Glass Pavilion,
use kind of layered glass. So we understand glass not
as nothingness, but actually something, something that’s
layered and aggregated. And actually,
interestingly, the cavity, it would typically be a
one inch sort of sandwich of glass with an
insulated glass unit, is now a two foot
or three foot cavity that’s actually inhabitable. So sort of taking that
cavity zone, that sort of thermal buffer, and
sort of spacializing it at the scale of architecture. So interesting device. And produces social effects. People in the cavity and people
interacting through the glass. And one of my
favorite descriptions is there’s so much glass
that at a certain point it, it becomes a kind of presence. It becomes a kind of solidity. And Florian pointed
out, there’s, like, 26 layers of glass. You could draw a
line through and cut through 26 layers of glass. So all this to get at
the question of, what is the window for architecture? What are its
techniques and devices? And how might we sort
of start to think about what that could be in
the future from the inside out, from the outside in? One of the things that–
any real estate for sure will sell the view. And I think this
is One Bryant Park. And so that was the
question of, like, how do you sell that view? But also think
about how you could start to manage
that in a simple way without the kind of presence
of physical blinds and so on. So the idea of screening
or manipulating the optical properties
of glass simply electronically seems
very appealing. And so some of the work that we
delivered to Merck at the time was thinking about, well,
what are the conclusions for them coming at architecture
from the outside, in a way? And we said, well,
energy will move to the foreground of
design, and all surfaces will become opportunities
for generating energy. We also said that
architecture will integrate display technologies
in all of its surfaces. Urban spaces will
communicate with audiences, creating new
communication channels. User produced content
will start to occupy some of this new sort
of media landscape. Sensors will transform spaces
into responsive environments. Responsive to the inhabitants,
but also to environments. And the internet
of things, which I think this falls
under the category of, will eventually recede from the
foreground to the background, and these things will
sort of disappear. But I do think–
one of the things that I was telling Merck
is the future building envelopes become smart
interfaces, responsive environments, responsive to
inhabitants, become adaptive, communicative, and integrated. So that was the kind
of pitch to Merck, why architecture would
be important to them. So they agreed to give us
some money, and then we said, we’re going to
host a conference. We’re going to call it Adaptive
Architectures and Smart Materials. And we chose to do
this in Chicago, coinciding with the inaugural
Chicago Architecture Biennial. And I even put on a white
shirt for the event. [laughter] But I invited Liz Diller to
come and give the keynote. And for me, Liz was someone
who understood, I think, that building technology’s
never just a technology. It’s always a kind
of cultural artifact. And I mentioned the Slow
House in my introduction, because the Slow House,
even though it was unbuilt, was always about the
windshield of the car and the panoramic view. And the house, the space
of residing or living was somehow sandwiched
between those two sort of visual moments. And as you know,
as you may know, as I hope you know,
the– where’s my mouse? That view, which is a
kind of panoramic view, is actually displayed inside
the house on a TV screen. And the TV screen
sort of plays back footage of that same view
from a different time or a different season. So it’s never just
an unmediated view. It’s always a view that’s
somehow mediated by media. And so way back in 1994
when I first saw Liz speak, I was really impressed
with this idea that she was looking at
architecture not just as material but also as media. That she was thinking about how
architecture functioned sort of culturally, and how an
architect might practice in that space using technology,
using media technology, but also building
technology to advance certain arguments about how we
use architecture to normalize certain conditions, how
we use it to frame nature, how we use it to
sort of position ourselves relative to the
natural and the man-made. So that’s why I
asked Liz to come. She came, and she actually
gave a great talk. She showed the recently
opened Broad, where, you know, the Broad uses a kind of
thick skin to manage light. And this is, I think, a new
territory for Diller Scofidio. Sort of into the kind
of very precise kind of formal language. But ultimately, it’s
still about that kind of experiential
atmosphere within. So highly technical
sort of description of panels and
geometries resulting in this kind of breathtaking
interior, which is really a kind of architectural effect. So back to the question
of architecture persuasion to the Gothic cathedral and
to the role of architecture in building technologies as
productive of these effects. So she showed this in Chicago. She also showed this, which
I wasn’t so familiar with, which is a project she did at
the Fondation Cartier in Paris where they installed
a kind of smart bucket that would go
around the gallery. And I don’t have her
video, which was very cute. But it would go around the
gallery and it would park, and then a drop of water
would land in the bucket. And then the bucket
would roll around to another part of the gallery,
and then another drop of water would land. So this was a kind
of clever insulation that they did in a Jean Nouvel
building, which is famously all glass, which apparently leaks. And apparently John
Nouvel was not pleased. But the sort of
innocence of the bucket and the kind of
playfulness of it, I think it sort of pointed out
something about architecture and envelopes and
issues of leaking. In the conversation
with Liz, Mohsen and Liz sort of discussed
lots of things. Mohsen brought up
the buckets we have here at the GSD, these
buckets that sort of still– stupid buckets. They still point out the fact
that architecture does leak. So questions of
leakage and envelopes were the subject of
discussion there. But I want to talk about the
conference itself and some of that content. I organized it into four
panels, histories, materials, technologies, and ecologies. And that was a simple way to
sort of bring all these people together and have
them sort of perform a kind of series of
discussions and series of presentations that
would have a certain arc. So in the first panel I invited
Terry Reilly, Todd Gannon, Eve Blau, Aaron Betsky
and Blaine Brownell. And I agreed to moderate them. And I invited them
partially because I think this whole discussion
of materials in architecture and surfaces was something
that I remember from 1994 when I moved to New York and light
construction was the show everyone was talking about. And it had just replaced
a show that everyone had been talking
about, which was deconstructivist
architecture, 1988. So between 1988
and 1994, the MoMA had shifted from a kind of
interest in French philosophy and sort of complex
form to Terry Reilly’s light construction, which
seemed to indicate a shift away from form and towards surface. And towards, in a way, the
materials of architecture. And I thought that was
really interesting at that time, at the same time,
Bernard Tschumi was sort of promoting the paperless
studio, the immaterial of architecture, the digital
studio, while the GSD was still sort of talking about materials
and poetics and construction. And so there was an
opposition set up in the ’90s between
the kind of Columbia school of advanced form
and computational design, and the GSD’s sort of
were still about material. And not that long
afterwards, the GSD had an exhibition called
Immaterial/Ultramaterial that Toshiko Mori curated
here in the gallery. And that was a kind
of reaffirmation that the GSD is still
interested in physical effects. In 1997, Material
ConneXion opened. The GSD acquired
all this material in the materials library. So this was a moment where
it was sort of up for grabs. Was the GSD going to go digital? Were they’re going
to go– were they going to stick with the
kind of material culture that they’d had? So I thought Terry
had sort of launched this whole thing in
1994, so I invited him to come and present. And I thought, 20 years? Let’s have some look back. Let’s think about, what
are the consequences? And he talked about Jean
Nouvel’s Fondation Cartier, he talked about Toyo
Ito’s Tower of Winds. He talked a lot about Mies,
and was Mies really believing that the glass wasn’t there? And he actually
found this drawing where Mies actually renders the
glass as a physical presence. So in his mind, he’s like, yes. Mies understood actually about
the optical effects of glass. He wasn’t simply ignoring. He was actually very
conscious of that. So Terry presented a kind of
recap of light construction. Todd Gannon came along, and
he had published The Light Construction Reader
a couple years after, sort of affirming the fact
that light construction wasn’t simply theory light. It actually had a kind
of incredible scholarship that went with it. And Todd sort of
brought in high tech. And he said, we should
talk about high tech, because that was
around the same time. And he was sort of bringing
up Reyner Banham and some of Reyner Banham’s interest
in the high tech movement. So Todd sort of brings in
high tech architecture. Cedric Price, Archigram,
and this other question of envelope. How minimal can the envelope be? And then Eve Blau came. And some of you may
be in her class. But she blew my mind
with a presentation that looked at the
Bauhaus, it looked at Mies. And she was saying,
typically the Bauhaus is understood as glass,
just as a material thing. It’s a kind of industrial thing. But she was actually looking
at my Moholy-Nagy and some of his photographic
techniques, and how he really celebrated reflectivities,
different optical effects. So I think Eve sort of took
Terry’s light construction and sort of gave us a lot more
historical context for both the Bauhaus Dessau and Tugendhat
House, Mies, but also Sejima. And Eve has been looking
at Sejima very closely in contemporary architecture. So I think she was able to
sort to take Terry’s stuff and sort of bring it
right into the present. And the last speaker
in the first panel was Blaine Brownell, who is
prolifically sort of publishing books on materials. And he showed some quite
provocative new materials sort of communicating from the left,
nontraditional communicating architectures to the right. High tech facades. He’s a big champion
of new materials. He writes a monthly column
in Architect Magazine. He was really
looking at the future of these potential materials. I should also say, I skipped
over Aaron Betsky who came along and sort of kicked
things open a bit and said, we don’t need high
tech architecture. We actually need low
tech architecture. And he sort of disrupted,
a little bit, the panel by saying, you guys are
all crazy looking at all this high tech stuff. And really, we need
no architecture. So that was a little bit of
a recap of that discussion. But for me, I was
interested to know if these things are
technique-based– and I think Eve made a
great case that Moholy-Nagy and Mies were actually using
very particular techniques. I was asking, well,
how do we teach that? How do we teach those
things in school? What’s the pedagogical
function of materials? Where materials seem so tied
to construction that if we’re in an academic context,
how do we actually look at those very carefully? And a couple days ago
I met with a student who’s doing a thesis on material
effects using simulations. And I said, well, what about
real material prototypes? Shouldn’t we be teaching that? And we have a great
materials library here. So for me, it raised lots of
questions about, at the GSD, how should we teach
these techniques? The next panel was
called materials. And Kiel was nice enough
to agree to moderate. We invited Jan Knippers
from Stuttgart, Skylar Tibbits from MIT,
Gail Peter Borden from USC, and Sheila Kennedy from MIT. And these guys were
starting to look not just at the kind of
theories of materials, but actually, how could these
become highly speculative? And Jan showed them
pretty interesting work he’d done on plastics. He’s written several
books on polymers. And he showed this
project that he worked on in South Korea
looking at simple sort of actuated facades
and how they might work to create this sort
of literal kinetic facade. And so this is a pavilion
built in South Korea that Jan advised on where
the kind of pressure on the plastic panel
actually allows it to sort of cup and actuate. Pretty impressive stuff. And Jan is also teaching
at the technical university in Stuttgart and has a practice,
Knippers Helbig Structural Engineer– Advanced Engineering. So that was interesting
to see how polymers might have their own logic. Sheila Kennedy, who has a firm
called MATx, or Materials x, showed a number of projects. One of them just
down the street here, the Tozzer
Anthropology Building, where they sort of speculate
a little bit about bricks. There was plenty
of Kahn references. What does a brick want to be? What does it not want to be? Why are we still
talking about the brick? But Sheila showed this
project with some others, looking at sort of
logics of aggregation, logics of assembly. And she’s one of
these people that’s so incredibly thoughtful
about the most banal things like drywall and bricks. Skylar showed some of the
work he’s doing at MIT. He’s got a lab called
the Self-Assembly Lab. I’m sure you know him. He’s talking about 4D printing. How do we print with embedded
magnets and things that will allow things to sort of
curl up and self-assemble? He’s 4D printing. He’s 3D printing
materials that have a degree of control in
them, so he can sort of manipulate them after the fact. He sort of famously talks
about architectural material and architectural labor. And if materials are
self-assembling, how could we remove the question of labor
from that equation, which is pretty provocative. And he showed this cute
video, which I love. Basically if we take a
frame, like a space frame, and we assemble
it on the ground, there’s all this
incredible labor of lifting and
arranging and fitting. And his argument goes,
well, why don’t we sort of use the space above the
construction site as a space and actually allow
materials to, in a way, self-assemble by providing
them with, I guess, sympathetic faces to match? And I think this
probably took some time. But it’s still pretty
compelling stuff. So after eight hours,
you get a cube. [laughter] 16 hours you get a beam. At a certain point
you get a lattice. And I love the
soundtrack, you know? Easy. And so it lands. And then you’ve got the
space frame assembled. So pretty compelling stuff. They had an incredible
discussion about– well, you try to put these
people together, Kiel and Skyler and Sheila. Sheila’s like, well,
there’s no silver bullet. There’s no magic material that’s
going to sort of transform architecture. It still requires intelligence. Smartness isn’t in the material. It’s actually in the design. So that was a pretty
great discussion. The next panel,
technologies– Mariana agreed to sort of
moderate this group. And thinking about not just
the materials themselves, but actually their systems
and components, how they sort of aggregate into
more complex systems. Chuck Hoberman who teaches
here, famously working on all kinds of kinetic ideas. Hanif Kara, who
also teaches here. Structural engineer
working on so many sort of complex and
interesting projects. Dennis Shelden, who teaches
at MIT and Gehry Technologies. And Marc Simmons,
who I think we’re trying to get to teach here
from front envelope consultant. And so this panel
sort of, I think, got into more sort of complex
issues of architecture. Marc basically said, look. My job is hard enough. I have to deal with
all these things, and that’s just a facade. And so he was sort of
skeptical of the idea that adaptive or kinetic
would be really the future of architecture. He was saying, look. I have a hard time getting an
operable windows to not leak. This is from the premiere
facade consultant in the world. So I think he was
sort of putting the brakes on some of the sort
of enthusiasm for the word adaptive. And I think rightly so. Then he went on to show, like,
about 100 projects that he’s consulted on, and some of them
with great big moving parts and some of them
was moving lights. But he went on to say, look. This is my world. I sort of work in this
highly complex thing. And if you guys don’t
bet on adaptability, think about there’s
always complexity and managing complexity. But he was sort of
cautioning against this sort of uncritical embrace
of adaptability. Which was interesting, because
then Chuck Hoberman came along, and his whole thing
is kinetics, right? He’s like, well, I
built my whole career around making these things
move in dynamic ways and wonderful ways. And Chuck showed all kinds
of products he’s done. Structural kinetics,
deploying structures. I found the most interesting
ones were the ones where he’s working on envelopes. He’s formed a joint
venture with BuroHappold. They’re looking at how
layered facades have different ways of
regulating heat gain, again, by moving material
in space with these very small movements, creating
quite beautiful, actually, and simple, unlike the Jean
Nouvel project, facades. And he also showed these
very large stadium roofs that he’s working on. And then Dennis Shelden
came along and said, you guys, forget it. I’m actually interested
in information. And actually,
information’s what drives all this sort of complexity. He’s one of the founders
of Gehry Technologies. And he showed any
building, whether it’s the kind of Louis
Vuitton building and Aaron Betsky had trashed
earlier, all this complexity, all this exuberance,
it really comes down to kind of spreadsheets and
managing the information. And that’s something that
architecture should really leverage, our ability to
manage these complex systems through our softwares. So he sort of made a case for
information as our medium. Not material, not
form, and irregardless of material and form. But he also made the case
for Gehry Technologies producing platforms,
collaborative platforms, not just software. So that was interesting. Mariana did a great job
of curating a discussion about innovation and risk. You know, whose role is it
to innovate at this scale? Is it building industry? Is it architecture? Is it the Academy? And the last group
was called ecologies just to sort of give it the
impression that the conference actually have an arc
and a trajectory, and things were getting
more and more complex. And at the end, we could
talk about complete sort of synthetic,
comprehensive buildings. And so Florian
moderated this panel. We had Frank Barkow, Jeanne
Gang and Martin Henn, Michael Meredith and Matthias Schuler. All sort of, except for
Matthias, all architects. But also people that had sort
of pulled it all together. And in a way, it was important
to sort of end on something sort of not just
particles, but trying to end on something at
the architectural scale. Frank, who you know, he’s
always interested in technique. He’s interested in
fabrication technique, producing its own vocabulary,
materials having effect. And he showed this
project that he proposed for these solid,
lightweight concrete sort of load bearing
facade elements that have kind of heating elements
embedded in them, which I think is awesome– an
awesome sort of way to develop prototypical parts
and then speculate about what those could mean at a low rise
or a mid rise or a high rise scale. Jeanne Gang showed a
few different projects. One of them that struck out
to me was the Solar Carve Tower, which was a kind of
inverse of the kind of Hugh Ferriss or the kind of New
York setback skyscraper because it sort of flips
that around and talks about, how is the sun actually
moving, and how might a kind of strategic
sort of carving actually improve its solar performance? So it’s not about
making the glass more resistant to the sun. It’s about making the
glass sort of look away when the sun comes. So in a way, that
has consequences on the form of the building,
formal consequences, and I think formal
opportunities. And then Matthias Schuler
showed some other work he’s been doing with
different architects, including Frank Gehry– this
is from Novartis in Basel– identifying within this form
the different territories, the different zones. Some zones you need
to control, some zones you don’t need to control. And how being selective
about– or being smart about
environmental systems, working with the
environment, how they could put their energy
literally in certain places and not in others. And then using PVs and
other screening systems strategically positioned to
make this building, which seems like an energy
sort of train wreck into something that
would actually embody some sort of intelligence. But Matthias Schuler
actually ended by saying, we do it for the people. It’s actually about–
at the end of the day, it’s not about this formal
exuberance or this kind of technological showcasing. It’s really about the way
people experience space. Whether it’s sort of in
a curtain wall building, or within a park-like setting. This is from the Milan Biennial. And one of the
speakers, Martin Henn, is designing the Merck
headquarters in Darmstadt. And he showed an
innovation center that he’s working
on where they are sort of deploying a
lot of these materials as a kind of showcase. It’s actually a
pretty cool building. It’s got this sort of quatrefoil
organizational structure. It’s meant to sort of pioneer
new working environments. It looks a little bit
like the Media Lab at MIT. Lots of kind of
sectional conditions. But within it,
there’s also the idea that you could sort of showcase
all these different products. You could showcase these
different glass products, different lighting products. Merck makes OLEDs. So this becomes a corporate
headquarters, also a kind of showcase building. And they had I think a
sort of great discussion at the end about the role
of technology, innovation. Should it happen in the Academy? Maybe it’s a partnership
between the Mercks of the world and the [inaudible]
of the world. That kind of– somehow
putting it together. But I think ultimately we
had a panel of architects, and the question was,
should architects be pushing these innovations
through their work? Can we broker some
of these conditions? And I think the answer
hopefully is yes. So that was a kind of super
fast summary of the conference. I have to say, we
did do an exhibition for the conference, which
some of the team was here. We built it in Boston. We drove it to Chicago. Or Sophia drove it to Chicago. Installed it in the space. And it really– I
think for the event, there was a conference
happening inside. There was material outside. And I think it gave
people the opportunity to see some of these materials. Not just to see
images, but actually to sort of touch
some of these things. And I think it sort of– I think
it was important to complement the content of the
conference with actual things that you could hold and touch. And there were, I think, moments
where the people from Merck were sitting there was
architects saying, hey, let’s collaborate on something. Let’s work. So Sheila Kennedy was
like, let’s talk about PVs with the Merck people. And I think there are
research opportunities that will come out of this
kind of conference as a kind of matchmaking
sort of situation. At the end, the Germans
were happy with the event and the conference. So I think what that sets
up is the opportunity for the next conference, right? For the next series
in this initiative. And I’ve already started
thinking about that, even though we’re still
recovering from the last one. I do think this question
of display architecture and communicating
spaces, I think could be a really interesting
new direction to think about. Not just thermal
performance, but actual, how do we use display technologies
to make architecture a broadcast medium? So very quickly, the
trailer for the next one is– think about architecture as
legible, as print, as digital. The transformation of
lighting from illumination to communication. The idea that lighting
now is becoming a signal. And how do we think about
that in terms of architecture? Venturi early on was
saying, architecture is about kind of
billboard, literally. And all of our surfaces
become display surfaces and they display content. They have inputs,
they have outputs. What are they communicating? Are they communicating their
energy consumption patterns? Are they communicating
other kind of content? In a way, it makes all
surfaces into interfaces. And what does that
mean for architecture? If we’re used to sort of looking
at a surface of the screen, what happens when we start
looking through that surface? A surface to look through,
not a surface to look at? And screens are not
just about looking at. They’re also about touching. How do we use sort of the
tactility of architecture to think about what it could be? And then because I still
have a little bit of time, I’m going to show you one–
two little projects that we’ve been working on at the border
with Mexico and [inaudible]. The federal government is
building a new border crossing to improve sort of wait times. You could wait six
hours at the border. We were asked to
make a proposal here. So we proposed a screen
that’s one pixel high by 600 feet long. And the idea was
while you’re waiting, you want to know that
something’s happening. So we’re basically
taking the information from the system to broadcast it
on the facade on this screen. And so every time
a car goes through, there’s a burst of light. And that somehow communicates
on a very basic level that the border is
not just impermeable. It’s actually highly
permeable, and there’s movement happening there all the time. This video’s a little funny. But I think at a time
when the kind of rhetorics around borders is going
off the charts, the idea that architecture functions
at these limits as interfaces, not just to sort of prohibit
or allow passage, but actually functions at these moments
to communicate something about architecture. So it’s not just about,
don’t come in or about saying, bienvenida or
something cheesy like that. This very modest installation
can visualize flow. It can communicate in a mode
sort of beyond language. It doesn’t have to say
bienvenida or welcome or anything. But I think it reminds
us that architecture has this role at
these interfaces, and has this role to
sort of communicate in different channels,
in different ways. One last thing I wanted to
show before I’ll ask you for some comments is we just
built this project in Roxbury for a new government center. We didn’t build the building. We built the sculpture
in front of it. The building is by Mecanoo. It’s a government
building in Boston. The brief was, how do
you build something that represents all the
neighborhoods in Boston? And so there was an idea
that with 21 neighborhoods, we can create this sort
of bundled structure that sort of relies
on other elements to be kind of self-buttressing. And then the idea is that the
sculpture is a map of the city. And it sort of conveys
all the 311 data, which is basically how
citizens are interacting with the government
to sort of improve the city by reporting traffic
lights, potholes, trash, whatever. But I think it’s a
very modest idea. But essentially, citizens
are participating in the construction
of their cities and the management
and operations of their cities in different
ways through different devices. And if you see a pothole
and you report it. Maybe they’ll come
back and fix it. But what this represented for us
is a highly rich set data set. It’s a data stream that’s
constantly updating, that has very
precise geotagging. And so we know exactly where
these reports are coming from. And for us, it
was an opportunity to take these data sets and
use them to sort of create the content for this
interactive sculpture. And it’s not interactive– just,
I touch it, it changes color. It’s actually
somehow broadcasting a kind of larger network of
interactions between citizens and the city in a
pretty rich way. And so this was a project
we built over the summer, fabricating the components
into this kind of bundled spire which had lighting
elements within it. And just a quick video
of an interaction. So in it’s normal
mode, it’s sort of flickering when things
are being reported. But there’s also an
opportunity– and something that the city wanted–
for kind of real, sort of one-on-one interaction. So it’s not just
about these kind of bursts, these kind of
seemingly random bursts. They were saying,
how do citizens interpret this communication? And how might they
understand themselves relative to this sort of
dialogue that’s going on? So this a little bit of
footage from a test where we’re allowing a user with a
handheld device to sort of trigger a behavioral pattern
in the sculpture, in real time. So that’s opening this
Friday at Dudley Square, and you’re all invited,
5:00, to come and see it. Bring your smartphones. But I think for me, it
does represent a mode where we’re thinking about
architecture a little bit differently. That it’s not about envelope
systems and mechanical systems. Now these are becoming
kind of synthetic. It’s not about a 2D surface. It’s about a kind
of 4D situation where envelopes and building
systems are becoming much more interactive, much more
communicative, much more adaptable, and really
kind of 4D surfaces. So stay tuned for
the next conference. Thank you. [applause] OK. How was that? Was that OK? I try to faithfully represent
what happened in Chicago. I’ll give you a little
bit of an update. But also, let you know
what we’re working on and what we’re looking forward
to, other kind of events or a research opportunities
to work with industry. I think it’s pretty unusual
to have an opportunity to work with someone
like Merck who has their own sort of agendas,
have their own research funding. But to bring an
industrial partner in to a school like
the GSD and think about what we could do
with someone like that– with someone– with a company
like that to do studios, to do workshops, to
do material research. So I think that’s pretty
exciting to sort of think about what they could do for
us, and how we could help them. Because they’re desperately
looking for design. They just don’t
know how to do it. So I think that’s
something we can help them think about the
impact that they would have on the built environment,
something that they’re not used to. Any thoughts? I have a thought. I really appreciate your
using the plural– I really appreciate you using the
plural of technologies. There’s this
tendency in the media to talk about technology
as if it were something. And technologies makes it
clear there’s many of them. You’ve obviously
identified and inventoried and played with some of them. Are there some that you
have imagined or wished for, but we don’t have yet? [laugh] Well, isn’t– what’s his name? Marty supposed to show up
any day now, any moment now from Back to the Future? Today? So I mean, I think
architects are about futures. That’s our job is to speculate. We’re often asked to think
about the future of that, and glass, the future
of this or that. I think that’s what we do. That’s what we do best
is sort of speculate. And it’s not science fiction. It’s always about, like,
what is in the present that might sort of create
a scenario where a future might be possible? So possible futures, near
futures, and near casting, I think. So I think as architects,
we’re sort ideally positioned to do that kind of near casting. I think designers in this
school are great at it. I’m not sure– Marty had this,
like, hoverboard thing that he was looking for that
didn’t materialize. I think the hoverboard
would be pretty cool. I mean, we’ve been
sort of going away from the kind of pure
materials and looking at media as a material. So this next one
about communicating, like, what if every surface
was somehow a display? Active, beyond kind
of aspect ratios. But that may not be a future
everybody wants, you know? For sure people would say, well,
I don’t want all that stuff. But I think it’s
interesting to speculate about what would
happen in those futures with those technologies. Other thoughts? What does this mean
for me at the GSD? You know, there’s an incredible
materials library down there, right? You been down there? I mean, amazing. I feel like the
studio’s being up here and the materials
library being down there, it’s one of the problems. We don’t go down there enough
to engage with real things. Maybe we’re too
enamored with our– It’s also online. It’s on the web. OK. Yep. Physical. Some of these
projects are really starting with the
material and discovering what the form could
be like, starting with the glass with a
Diller Scofidio building. Or with the Gehry
Novartis building, it’s starting with the
form and then, how can we adapt the material to make
this a pleasant environment, assuming this form? So are there examples
you could cite where there’s more of a
synthesis between material and form? Where they’re kind of evolving
together to create a design? Yeah, that’s a great point. I mean, I think that the Gehry’s
a kind of brute force example, right? I want this form, and
I will force that glass into that form. And it’s actually pretty
innovative, the kind of cold forming that the Gehry sort
of did on the IAC Building in New York, as we discover
that glass is actually pretty flexible. Within a certain range, you
can actually cold form it. And instead of having a
million different unique panel, he had, like, half a
million because he said, half of these I can cold
form into this geometry. I think he’s still wrestling
the form, wrestling the material into the form. No doubt. But I think he’s
still been pretty pioneering in sort of
testing the limits of what the material could do. If you didn’t begin with
form, as you suggest, then you said, well, what
could the material do? If I can bend it,
like, half a degree, could I develop a vocabulary
out of that half a degree bend? That might be reverse
engineering that. Maybe the building would
be much more subtle because it would have very,
very subtle curves and not these kind of sort
of forced forms. I can’t think of a
project right now that would be more sympathetic
to the material, but I’m sure there’s
a way to do it. I also think the idea that
you build out of glass because it’s
efficient and cheap, and then you build in desert. So you tend to code it and
put sun and shades on it. That seems very
unsympathetic to me. And even if it had a
liquid crystal in it, I’m not sure it’s still
the right place to build. So I guess we have to
ask when not to build, when to build in different ways. So, yeah. I don’t have the answer. But I do think
I’m just asking us to be more conscious of how we
use glass and when we use it. What’s the fitness of
a solution like that? Todd? Was there– I can
explain why I’m going to ask the question in a bit. Was there any criticism
to over gadgetry? It seems like all
your examples were– there’s a lot of overkill
gadgetry, cheap tricks. And then when I look
at my offices in Norway and Scandinavia and the way
we make our architecture in Scandinavia, it’s actually–
it’s the opposite way that this is going. It’s more simplification
and purity in materials. And the way we work actually
is we work with industry developing prototypes. We don’t draw that many
construction details until we work
directly with them. But was there any criticism
of all this gadgetry, or was it like everyone was
preaching to you to convert it? I mean, Aaron Betsky sort
of put up some resistance. That’s a problem for me. [laughter] No, I mean, he pointed
out, like, look. You guys are all
sort of obsessed with the latest technology. Why so high tech? How about low tech? What about no tech? What about no architecture? So he sort of pushed in the
complete opposite direction. Repurposing buildings,
thinking about things people could build themselves. So I think he was
sort of pushing back, as you are, on this kind of
super duper sort of gadgetry. I mean, I’m not
pushing for high tech. I’m actually just
pushing for kind of just being smarter about
the technology that we use. I do think glass in
architecture will continue to be a kind of
material of choice because the economics and the
operations are so attractive. But the question is,
how might a speculation at the scale of the particle
change that, change that completely? Change the economics, change
the performance characteristics? And I think that’s,
for me, exciting. I still think at a
certain moment in Dubai, maybe you just
shouldn’t do that. You shouldn’t use glass at all. Or maybe in Norway. I mean, those are kind
of extreme examples where you wouldn’t be looking
for an all glass building. You’d be looking for something
a lot more insulated. But I think that’s what
we want to communicate is that there’s an
appropriateness of technology. Despite all the
kind of innovation, we still have to
exercise judgment. I found it particularly
interesting when you talked about
almost like the use of light as a communication tool and that
relationship to architecture. Now I’m just wondering
what– maybe you could speak more
to what precisely you are trying to
communicate, and the purpose of these communications. For example, I found
it particularly poetic, the last two
projects you showed, of how these light
installations are almost showing these invisible
processes, if I may term it that like that. But I’m just wondering as
perhaps a pedestrian watching or looking at these
installations, what is the message of that
I’m trying to understand? Am I trying to understand the
actual process that’s happening and the kind of more precise
information out of it? Or is it just understanding
the somewhat suggestive idea that there is a
process happening? Yeah. No, I mean, it’s
a good question. We’ve been interested
in sort of making architecture more communicative,
embedding media in it. And I like to just
say it’s always been. It’s always had content. The Gothic cathedral
had content, and it was trying to convey and
persuade and convert, in a way. Your average building may
not have that kind of agenda. But office buildings,
you hire an architect to design an office
building, it’s conveying a certain condition. Whether it’s like, oh, this
is a Frank Gehry building or this is a kind
of high tech thing, architecture’s always
communicating through form. And I was just
saying, maybe we could expand that to be not just
about form, but actual content. The question you raise though
is like at a certain point, there’s a super
abundance of content. And then there’s a kind of
breakdown of communication where you’re
communicating, but no one’s receiving or understanding. So I think it’s
interesting to think about communication theory. There’s a kind of broadcast
and there’s a kind of receiver. There’s a kind of signal,
then there’s noise. And how do we think about
architecture in those terms? I don’t have the
answer, but I do think it’s important that we
start asking those questions. The facades are
no longer facades. They’re actual interfaces. And interfaces have
content, they have users. So maybe it’s a
subtle thing, but I think thinking about
architecture in those terms, we can start to develop our
own new techniques for talking about architecture differently. Because we talk about
occupants, but I think we’ll increasingly
talk about users. We’ll talk about recipients or
receivers, not just occupant. So I’m trying to sort
of ready, I think, a discipline for a future which
I think is almost inevitable. And we don’t yet have the tools
to work in that medium yet. Anything else? OK. Well, thank you very much. [applause]

3 thoughts on “GSD Talks | Technologies of Design: Eric Höweler

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *