Page N3.2 . 19 November 2003                     
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    Architectural Performances?

    continued

    Rather, in a potentially flimsy exploitation of double meaning, Leatherbarrow suggested that the building itself is a performance piece, with a life of its own beyond our intentions for it. He feels that the greatest promise of performative architecture is as a new way of understanding buildings apart from their functions. His comments seemed to lead to a consideration of architecture as an event, not as an object.

    Performative architecture, said Leatherbarrow, "is not the result of design and technology," nor our "script" for how we believe the building should behave, because, he believes, that script always limits our appreciation of architecture's potential.

    Architecture as Problem Solving

    In a complete switch in direction, Andrew Whalley, an architect with Grimshaw, took a more traditional approach to the definition of performative architecture: a functional approach to design that combines art with an understanding of how buildings go together.

    Whalley discussed Grimshaw projects, such as the Financial Times building, Waterloo Station, and a science laboratory in St. Louis, from the perspective of creative problem solving with an inventive technical approach.

    For the Eden Project botanical garden, for example, the Grimshaw designers looked at the structure of soap bubbles for inspiration. Whalley noted that the computer in design today allows much greater latitude in visualizing solutions than ever before.

    Digital Design Performance

    Harald Kloft with the Office for Structural Design in Darmstadt, Germany, furthered the discussion of the use of computers in design. His work with free-form structures, Kloft noted, would not be possible without digital media today.

    Other speakers throughout the conference shared this view of performative architecture as that which harnesses the power of computers in both design and function to deliver buildings that are complex in form and sophisticated in their environmental systems.

    Mahadev Raman, a principal with Arup in New York, drew these strands together in his presentation on the principles of sustainable architecture, and the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED standard, which attempts to quantify the performance of green buildings.

    Other presenters, however, while not denying the impact of computers on design, extended an alternate focus on architecture as performance art. In their view, performative architecture takes an active role in the life of the city, which becomes the stage upon which it performs.

    Interactive Architecture

    Lars Spuybroek, principal of NOX Architekten in Rotterdam, presented a number of projects somewhere between sculpture and architecture that are performance pieces. In the Dutch city of Doetinchem, for example, NOX has designed an interactive tower with a biomorphic form that changes color according to the prevailing emotional moods of city residents, who report their psychological dispositions on a Web site.

    In a similar vein, Jan Edler, an architect with realities:united in Berlin, presented a light and media installation, called BIX, that he has just completed at the Kunsthaus in Graz, Austria. This new building, designed by Spacelab Cook-Fournier GmbH, has a free-form glass facade shaped like a large potato. Behind the facade, realities:united has designed a lighting scheme that turns the building into a gigantic illuminated screen upon which digital media art pieces can be projected.

    The screen makes a fuzzy line between where the architecture ends and where the performance medium begins, giving this project great vitality.

    By the end of the conference, one thing was clear: a definition of "performative architecture" is elusive. Perhaps it's better understood as a very large tent under which we can gather several elephants: the evolving movements in a rich mix of digital media, architecture, sculpture, high-tech engineering, and interactive buildings. Or, perhaps, for the next conference on this theme, the organizers could clarify their intent with regard to the double meaning of performance.

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Michael J. Crosbie is editor-in-chief of Faith & Form, a senior associate with Steven Winter Associates, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek.

     

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    ArchWeek Image

    The Eden Project by Grimshaw.
    Photo: Perry Hooper/ Grimshaw

    ArchWeek Image

    Glass bubble by the Office for Structural Design in Darmstadt, Germany.
    Photo: Harald Kloft

    ArchWeek Image

    Aluminum structure for the glass bubble.
    Photo: Harald Kloft

    ArchWeek Image

    Door into the glass bubble.
    Photo: Harald Kloft

    ArchWeek Image

    The Kunsthaus in Graz, Austria, designed by Spacelab Cook-Fournier GmbH.
    Photo: Harry Schiffer/ Graz2003

    ArchWeek Image

    The Kunsthaus has a free-form, backlit glass facade that turns the building into an illuminated screen.
    Photo: Harry Schiffer/ Graz2003

    ArchWeek Image

    Detail of the Kunsthaus lighting.
    Photo: ArGe Kunsthaus

     

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