Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Demarcating the Sky.

One of the most awe inspiring sights I’ve ever experienced is a moonless, night sky in the Australian outback. A completely flat uninterrupted landscape turns into 360 degree continuous horizon line and an intense star filled sky completely engulfs your vision. As your eyes adjust to the low light levels over a number of hours, ever more of the vastness of the universe gets projected onto the surface area of your retina.

Completely captivating, it’s hard not to drift into a quiet state of contemplation, wonder and gratitude. As aboriginal folklore reveals, the night sky contains an almost infinite multitude of pictorial stories describing the dreamtime events of creation. Indigenous astronomical observations have shaped entire cultures and the sky has been used as a readily accessible store of knowledge since the dawn of man. Nowadays our everyday observations of the sky are more limited, particularly if living in a city where the delicate point sources of light from distant stars are obscured by the radiant light of modern living. However the sky is still closely observed. Today’s cosmological research is fuelled by the exciting and theories of surreal quantum realities which continue to inspire us to observe the sky and beyond with ever increasing precision and accuracy. The sky is also under close observation to allow the continual orchestration of our aviation industries.

All these modes of viewing and monitoring the heavens have manifested themselves in architecture. From airports to the Nazca Lines man has long sought to make demarcations of the sky into the landscape, either as acts of reverence, tools for navigation or a record of observation. Having spent the last few years labouring on airport master plans, the geometries of apron level taxi lanes, runway configurations and terminal orientations always remind me of the biomorphic Nazca lines which many have speculated are enormous astrological instruments.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Architecture as a time based Art

(as seen in #7 - the hourglass issue http://matzine.wordpress.com)
For me the delights of Architectural education have always been the insights that reveal the fluid, dynamic, changing and cyclic nature of Architecture. Lets consider Architecture as a process and as a unique creative act that happens, not only as a part of the architect’s design methodologies but also as a cognitive act that is fundamental to our perception and subjective experience of space. In this light architecture can be seen as a time based art that exists in space like a continual piece of music or a perpetual performance.

When we start to see Architecture not as inert spaces that we occupy but rather spaces created by our occupation, a complex reciprocal relationship between people and space, culture and architecture becomes apparent. Architecture can now be seen as a time based art that is inseparable from the way people perceive and use it. This cyclic relationship between human activity and Architecture sees Architecture as an event or series of events in time much like a performance complete with characters and protagonists both human and architectural.

In representing Architecture the traditional drawing methods employed by Architects transcribe and precisely construct a seemingly clear and scientifically objective representation of the piece of built work to be realised. These modes of representation continually improve with precision as our technology continues to expand. However they serve to reaffirm an assumption of a directly mapped correspondence between drawings and completed built form. This is incredibly useful for the swift translation of an idea into a built work but it will struggle to elucidate the time based nature of architecture.

This is no easy task, but perhaps lessons can be learned from other time based arts such as music and dance where the development of a graphical notation has had a significant effect on the development of these arts. Musical notation can be seen as a representation of space. Crotchets, quavers and semibreves are spatial divisions of a beat that denote rhythm and a passage of notes describes a set of musical intervals in time. Labanotation is a form of graphical notation describing a spatial geometry used in dance. Its originator Rudolph Laban defined a geometry utilising the limits of the of the outstretched body, which mark twenty seven points in space that tilt and rotate with movement.

These systems acknowledge the presence and necessity of a performer in order for the work to exist. This important acknowledgment allows a space for interpretation, indeterminacy, and the unexpected – this is improvisation. Can architectural representation relinquish its assumed Cartesian solidity and allow for a time based architecture to emerge that acknowledges the activity of those who use and perceive it as being its creative impetus?

Digital technologies may provide a possible future for an improvised Architecture that undermines the traditional position of the Architect as originator of the object. Genetic algorithms, self perpetuating systems and other digital drawing systems are being employed and developed that allow for an organic architecture to emerge.

However the attitude we adopt as designers is as a powerful tool. Actors, musicians and performers strive for complicite within a performance. Complicite is a shared sense of unity, heightened awareness and sensitivity to those around you. An architectural complicite can be achieved within creative teams when ideas are given space, where personal ownership is relinquished and personal expression is encouraged. This environment is highly conducive to creativity, spontaneity and can be seen as the opening acts of an architectural event.

The polymath Gordon Pask developed his Conversation Theory to describe the interaction between two or more cognitive systems or distinct perspectives within one individual, and how they engage in a dialog over a given concept and identify differences in how they understand it. Recognising that this intimate relationship of creation exists between people and their environment Pask extended his theory to architecture. He conceived of an architecture that would be in constant conversation and dialogue with its users.
Understanding Architecture as a time based art and representing it through a conversational loop unveils the potential of an exciting and organic architecture of participation, interaction and creation.