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Harry Reynoldson_view of powerstation

The Future of Architecture

WORDS BY Rene Van Meeuwen

The future of architecture is rife with speculation. There will be a major paradigm shift in the near future. Carbon tax abolished or not, there are some serious pending environmental issues we face within our industry. Traditional modes of practice for architects are out of date and economically challenged.

We need to seek new technologies to enable more efficient and effective ways of designing and constructing buildings. If we track the more profound developments in architecture throughout history, one can usually find relationships between technological and societal shifts and the products of our discipline. In our time, it seems likely that computational design theories and practices will pave the way to a new way of thinking, explaining, conceiving, and procuring architecture. It will fundamentally challenge the way we perceive space and aesthetics, and change the process of design, potentially doing away with the traditional modes of representation all together.

In the spirit of Massive Change, the book documenting the research of Bruce Mau and the ‘Institute without Boundaries’, we need to design solutions for our future rather than dwell on our contemporary condition. Like the cause and effect of science fiction, architecture needs to find new exemplars for our immediate future. Speculation in architecture needs to transcend visualisations and lead experimental studies in spatial experience and new ways of dwelling. Architecture needs to move beyond commodities (concrete, steel, bricks and mortar), and be driven instead by ‘fringe’ technologies. I predict that architecture will shift in three key areas; computation, physics and biology.

Kurzweil argues that historically, technological advances at every level cause exponential growth in knowledge, while delivering exponential reduction in fiscal cost. These traits are predictable and therefore innovation needs to project its own future. Computational technology exceeds projections against other technological categories and usually over preforms.

Although programming languages are themselves restricted to binaries and Booleans, it is algorithms which are paving the revolution in computational capacity. The capability for technology to find, assess, analyse and then redefine data makes the computational feedback loop infinitely compelling and predictive, with a certain sense of self determination. Architecture will become part computational.

From a physics point of view there has been one major shift certain to impact our future. The Higgs boson particle was discovered at the same time as we were coordinating a studio exploring the potential of architecture in a post ‘God particle’ world. A group of fifth year masters students from the University of Western Australia explored this future in 2012, instigated by Tom Kovacs’ project for the Venice Biennale 2012, Maribor the 100 year City.

Harry_Reynoldson_satelite_array

Harry Reynoldson_old battery station

The interest in the science of the Higgs boson is its capacity to give strong evidence to our current quantum physics model. Quantum physics has largely existed as a philosophy of science rather than science itself. However, the theory has led to many modern day discoveries. Probably that with the most impact was the transistor back in the 1920s. If we take the innovative leaps discovered through theory, then one can only speculate their potential as science. Gravity is now just a basic figure of buildings rather than a constraint.

Biological technology has already experienced a paradigm shift. Nanotechnology, still in its infancy, is already reshaping our available building products, shifting life cycle expectations and providing positive environmental outcomes. Molecular machines that create the potential for a direct fusion of computational technology and biology are somewhat scary. This seems completely in the realm of science fiction, however, what is important for architecture is to understand the consequences and the potential. Comprehend the capacity to imagine space and experience it simultaneously, yet the actuality of the space itself is driven purely by your imagined desire. It physically creates multiple realities within the human brain’s cortex.

Mau and the ‘Institute without Boundaries’ (now 15 years old), still remains a positive force in the design disciplines. Their mission proposes the capacity of creativity and innovation to overcome the obvious challenges for humanity. Computational technology has already had a profound transformative effect on aesthetics and now leading the way in new procedural and construction techniques. This said we are still to see a true integration of computation itself fused with architecture.

Augmented Reality is the beginning of the transition from an architecture considered purely as a solid state technology, to a more relaxed interpretation of form. If we take the cues of the previous points then it is easy to speculate on the future of its potential. Architecture could be where the true innovation of this technology is found and experienced. Architecture may become a fusion of the physical and visual, experienced through our consciousness rather than through product.

Architecture has had many transformations over the last 600 years. In the last 100 years there has undoubtedly been an acceleration of transformative causes. The ‘computer’ has made an enormous difference to architecture from mostly an external and additive set of conceptual relations. History and theory have also had an impact over the last 100 years internally via knowledge exchange and academic revitalisation. There are millions of articles and texts attributed to that fact. Looking forward, architects could pave a new future as science fiction specialists, incubating reality rather than visualising it.

 

This articles is inextricably linked to three key TED talks speakers published online, along with Bruce Mau’s book Massive Change and the institute without boundaries. This communication channel does not allow a full explanation of some of the claims however readers should watch the TED talks to better see the future of architecture.

Mau, B., Jennifer Leonard (2004). Massive Change, Phaidon Press.

 See Kurzweil, R. (2005). “The accelerating power of technology.” TED Talks. 2014, from <http://www.ted.com/talks/ray_kurzweil_on_how_technology_will_transform_us> and

Kurzweil, R. (2009). “A university for the coming singularity” TED Talks. from <http://www.ted.com/talks/ray_kurzweil_announces_singularity_university>.

Ray Kurzweil is a technology expert whose research suggests the technology innovation and cost can be easily predicted. He predicts that nanotechnology will fuse the human biology and computational technology in the next twenty years. This prediction fundamentally spells out the idea that the next incarnation of smart phones will be a biological implant.

 Slavin, K. (2011). “How Algorithms shape our world.” TED Talks. from <http://www.ted.com/talks/kevin_slavin_how_algorithms_shape_our_world>

Slavin’s research tracks the computer engineers from the post-Cold War becoming influential in algorithms used to manipulate the money markets amongst other things. The interest in this TED talk is in both computer unpredictability and the resulting consequence in the built environment.

 Giudice, G. (2013). “Why our universe might exist on a knife edge.” TED Talks. from <http://www.ted.com/talks/gian_giudice_why_our_universe_might_exist_on_a_knife_edge#t-838114>

Currently Architectures relationship with physics remains Newtonian. The Higgs boson particle and associated research will start to see new material topologies at the edge of scientific understanding.

 Le, T. (2010). “A headset that reads your brainwaves.” TED Talks. 2014, from <http://www.ted.com/talks/tan_le_a_headset_that_reads_your_brainwaves>

Tan Le’s headset is currently the closest technology to the future of computational technology and human fusion.