The Internet, and its near-ubiquitous presence in our daily lives, has blurred the lines between the digital and the physical, and architecture is scrambling to catch up. The industry's need to respond to, adapt to, and interact with emergent technologies such as networked collaboration, open-source information, 3D printers, and other digital means of production will only continue to increase as these worlds become more entwined.
That's what makes speculative robotic research so vital to the field: It not only brings the traditionally physical practice further into the digital realm; it also takes the possibilities presented by emergent interactive technologies to form a grassroots, bottom-up approach to architecture.
One such operation is being run at the California College of the Arts by Jason Kelly Johnson and Michael Shiloh. As part of the CCA Hybrid Lab, where computers are taught in a scrappy, DIY, hackerish way, "Creative Architecture Machines" aims to integrate computer programming into the design-build process with machines the students have created directly for architecture. "We treat the machine, code, and material exploration as equals," Johnson said.
The research utilizes Arduino, an open-source microcontroller meant to provide easy-to-use interaction between software (inputs) and physical components such as lights or motors (outputs). Additionally, the Studio uses Firefly, a programming interface that replaces text-based coding with a graphical interface.
Johnson is one of the co-developers of the Firefly, which helps make Rhino and Grasshopper more compatible with the Arduino hardware by making these standard architectural programs accessible, easy to use, and more intuitive. Students start by producing 2D drawing machines before moving on to make their own 3D printing machines. These robots can move and adapt to their surroundings, providing much more flexibility for printing on a site that conventional 3D printers could not access.
Combining the traditional brick-and-mortar aspect of 3D printers with robotic interactivity provides an interesting parallel to other research revolving around manipulating large-scale industrial robots to create new types of architecture—or animate architecture into a more dynamic medium. This hi-fi, hi-tech approach—used, for example, in Greg Lynn's Suprastudio—brings prototyping and construction fabrication technology into the new-machine age, aiming to carry on a formal, modernist lineage of architecture by appropriating and adapting alongside novel technological developments.
The Arduino-based experiments address a similar digital/physical condition, presenting an alternative, "democratic," ad-hoc approach to architecture. This process aims to provide some kind of revolutionary way out of our current condition, empowering people and their attached networks to produce things without the constraints of expensive equipment or traditional processes of construction. Joseph Grima's Adhocracy exhibition, originally conceived for the 2012 Istanbul Biennale, showcased this kind of open-sourced, decentralized, and adaptable production in the design field, while other experiments, such as the WikiHouse, have translated this attitude toward making into the architectural scale.
All post images courtesy of CCA.