In the brain, the ‘starting conditions’ are the specific neural signals arriving from the spine, or elsewhere in the brain. In the case of an ANN, they’re whatever we’d like them to be, from the results of a search algorithm to randomly generated numbers to words typed out manually by researchers.” – Graham Templeton, ‘Artificial neural networks are changing the world. What are they?’ [sic]
Kensington House started with a simple premise, a typical Aussie home extension, which inevitably is stage 2 of the home ownership dream, especially as the family expands. Many have these dreams but it usually comes crashing down in the reality of the budget required. Those who continue with the dream end up with a builder, a drafter, a trip to Ikea and an uninspired result.
This is an experiment in a model for architectural domestic building.
At a gathering, clients and friends, Victor and Alexandra outlined their plans for their little used carpark space and asked if I could help. Faced with the scale of the project yet its complexities and the potential cost of an architectural intervention, most architects would run a mile.
My architectural education took place in Adelaide at a time when the internet was about to arrive on the scene and 3D modelling as a tool had not yet infiltrated our profession. As an early adopter, through interest in 3D gaming design and technology, there was a lot of cynicism and push back by most at uni who saw the use of the computer in architecture as cheating and certainly not as a design tool. Once I had my degree and on a trip to Melbourne, I chanced upon the just completed Storey Hall which cemented my belief that technology had a lot to offer the architectural profession in practise and could make possible a rich original local architecture.
Since then much has changed. BIM and advanced 3D Modelling tools have finally, after a long tortured process, entered the mainstream, although maybe not as a design tool.
So after more thought it dawned on me that this little project could augment my interests and could be used as a research project. As a practitioner and designer, I’ve always been interested in technology and the feedback process between man and machine, as an enabler, like a cerebral version of Stelarc. An artificially augmented intelligence.
As a practitioner and designer, I’ve always been interested in technology and the feedback process between man and machine, as an enabler, like a cerebral version of Stelarc. An artificially augmented intelligence.
In a world of cultural saturation, we are, without choice, thrust into a post-everything paradigm and thus filters are of paramount importance. What better than an augmented, parametric filter and sorter. A parametric augmentation of the design process. Feeding in variables, history, art, anything into the mix and iterating and mixing and mashing. Like a game of chance, I like surprises.
Victor had renovated a house before and was an above average handyman, not to mention an experienced self-employed locksmith, so he was keen to do as much as he could. His wife Alexandra wanted something different and special, a personal one-off. She was also a bit nervous it might look commercial and non-residential, especially knowing I just worked on a desalination plant and a freeway.
They also had to live in the house with their child, toddler and baby during construction. So the owner builder method of procurement was the obvious way forward. It was clear that cost of labour would not be an issue, which could open up a world of materials, techniques and experimentation.
My goal was to develop an Ikea like manual which would enable Victor to put it all together. I treated the project like a piece of virtual joinery. Every component was to be modelled and interrogated in the computer.
The suburb and street has a heritage overlay and is dominated by quaint little renovated Victorian cottages and virtually no modern architectural expression.
The existing building has an interesting history, it was built in 1913, first housing delivery horses and carriages, then a boxing gym, a homing pigeon loft and then modestly converted into a townhouse.
The extension was to occur on the front carpark space and it quickly became apparent that the dimensions of the site along with planning restrictions would self-design the form. There would be no gratuitous form making.
So into the iterative mix went the decorative, pretty lacework of the cottages, and ideas of heritage as memory. Rather than a binary memory, more the idea of a sensorial memory, the kind of childhood memories one has, and the evolution or perhaps devolution of these memories.
I started with a childlike representation of the original stables. In the computer an iterative process of subdivisions, triangulations and tessellations begins. The cycle continues until all the iterations are exhausted or an output produced. The image evolved over time into just the pretty motif I had envisioned and it wasn’t just a dumb graphic, randomly selected on google, but a snapshot of a complex process.
It could be a long lost design for a Victorian doily, or a complex but intriguing network, an artificial neural network, a network of the cultural melting pot. But it would be, ultimately, an embodiment of the design thought process, facilitated by the ANN.
Having explored the use of rain screens in my day job, it seemed like a good idea to build as simple a building as possible, and wrap it in a kind of architectural fabric. This meant that Victor could easily construct the majority of the building himself using the good old staples, Colorbond, brick, timber and a bit of steel. This would not break the bank and would most likely not leak.
I modelled it all, element by element, screw by screw, in BIM. From the model, we extracted shop drawings for steel fabrication, quantities, etc. To my relief, the steel fit perfectly when delivered, the quantities were correct and slowly but surely the base building rose in Victor’s spare time. Victor spent many nights researching construction techniques and watching Youtube instructional videos.
It was time to realise the screens. They had to be lightweight, 35% open (as specified by council), filter the light, not block the impressive city views but provide privacy from the street and embody the pretty motif. A seemingly impossible task.
I chanced upon a sample of expanded mesh which seemed perfect. It was lightweight, strong, efficient and clever in its use of material density. It looked like a bunch of little sun screens woven together like fabric or fish scales. Even though I’d never seen it done before, I didn’t think it would be a problem laser cutting a pattern into it.
I had also just explored the use of polycarbonate on another project. Another great material for introducing light with privacy. And no need to use a glazier. Two perfect candidates.