Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Figure 1: Bruce Nauman's Slow Angle Walk (Beckett Walk), 1968. 1
“In homage to Arena Quad I+II of Samuel Beckett and the character Molloy, Bruce Nauman walked for about an hour on a space defined by starting with a line drawn on the ground. With his hands clasped behind his back, placing one leg at a time on the ground, walking – instead of an ordinary gesture – becomes a dance of the weights and continuous rebalancings of the body while giving rise, through the sound of the cadenced steps, to a rhythmical, sonorous space.”2

Francesco Careri, Walkscapes
We are in the midst of a shift in thinking about the anatomy of architecture whereby a building is imagined as a complex system, the form of which is the result of generative processes and determined by the material properties of the components and their patterns of assembly. This new paradigm emerges from, and permits, the integration of the ecological+, topological+ and structural+ performances of the building using evolutionary design and computation methods.3

Within this paradigm, surface is that part of the system through which exchanges of energy, information, and materials with the local environment are vectored. Emergent material methodologies offer form-finding methods for surfaces which are theoretically in sync with the complex system paradigm. The experiments within this discourse, however, have not yet meaningfully incorporated ecology; that is to say, they do not consider how human occupation of a space offers energy, information, or material to the system, and thus how the surface can best vector these exchanges.

Both the perspectives of the system-building and the human-ecology need to be considered in establishing these exchanges: 
System input: What aspects of human occupation become useful inputs for the system?  
Ecological response: How does the ecology respond to system outputs? 
I will largely sidestep the question of the appropriateness of, and logic for, establishing active ecological interference via a building system. I will, however, take up Francesco Careri's offer of the path as a resource for architects, and suggest that the act of walking through a space may offer useful, legible inputs for the system and access a primal territorial relationship which permits “(intervention) in their continuous becoming by acting in the field, in the here and now of their transformation, sharing from the inside in the mutations of these spaces....”4
+ ecology: all the relationships between human groups and their physical and social environments.  
+ topology: the connections between all the material elements in an environment. 
+ structure: organizational capabilities above and beyond load bearing. 

1. Bruce Nauman, Slow Angle Walk (Beckett Walk), Museum Madre, 1968, December 18, 2009).
2. Francesco Careri. Walkscapes (Barcelona, Spain: Editorial Gustavo Gili, 2002), 128.
3. Achim Menges, “Morphoecologies,” AD Techniques and Technologies in Morphogenetic Design 76, no. 2 (March/April 2006):73.
4. Careri, Walkscapes, 26.

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