“Space Oddity” meditates on what architecture can be in deep space. In such an indifferent and inhospitable vacuum, architecture as static form loses meaning, and must instead rely on a self-sustaining momentum of adaptable materials.
rub-a-dub, the design team responsible for Space Oddity, wanted to entirely rethink the organization of space (architectural) within an infinitely greater space (outer space). The team is composed of Sebastian Andia, Rodrigo Chain, Apostolos Despotidis and Thomas T. Jensen. They conceived of Space Oddity in 2012, while studying under the DRL at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, a post-professional MArch program.
Space Oddity is obviously not a viable option for actual space travel, but the timing is ripe to imagine new versions of living and moving in space. The romance of manned space missions pales in comparison to its financial and human costs, yet the pursuit of touristic Space Pioneering persists, enabled by technological advances and the nagging reality that Earth won’t be here forever.
I interviewed rub-a-dub after they completed Space Oddity to hear their thoughts on space exploration and its influence on the architectural medium, both in academia and “out there”.
Project description, courtesy of rub-a-dub:
After a period of general silence related to space research and with increasing interest in space tourism we see an opportunity for a new interpretation of materiality and spatiality within this environment. Therefore, outer space has been our medium to rethink architectural organisation and materiality. In this volatile and hostile environment, movement and adaptability is of importance to architectures that inhabit it. The architecture that was created is one that constantly adapts and performs to human needs. The idea of a constantly reconfigurable formation has become a question of reorganising matter through time. This makes the traditional three-dimensional and static space of architecture obsolete. Aiming to dismiss the idea of the ‘space can’ as the common model for space architecture, our main objective is to rethink technology and the concept of the prototype. Therefore our architectural proposal deals with the physics and parameters of space while also performing on Earth. Realising the difficulties inherent in this proposition, Space Oddity focuses on two areas – organisational behaviour and material behaviour. Organisational behaviour investigates the notion of a bottom-up system arguing for the assemblage and reconfiguration between one and more parts, pushing for a self-organisational prototype. Material behaviour explores the possibilities of rearranging matter through implicit forces. As such, the focus of the project is on the idea of behaviour embedded in matter that allows for a constant reconfiguration of a global formation.
The interview with rub-a-dub is as follows:
What is your interest in outer space?
For us outer space was an opportunity to challenge ourselves to investigate and propose alternative models to approach architecture. In an environment of zero gravity, hostile living conditions and few means of infrastructure, the very fundamentals of traditional architectural organization are heavily challenged. Life preservation and daily routine of human activity rely mainly on the organization of architectural space, where static architectural elements such as floors, ceilings and walls are considered redundant imposing a more dynamic programmatic distribution model.
Thus Space Oddity initiated the idea of self-assemblage, self-organization and continuous reconfigurability as a possible answer to the demand of space inhabitation. These thoughts are something that is often discussed and addressed in various architectural environments, but they are hardly ever materialized.
How have your thoughts on Space Oddity changed since the project's completion in 2012?
Since our graduation we've continued to pursue and further develop the methods and ideas inherent in our Space Oddity. We see great opportunities in participatory and responsive environments - something which hasn't greatly been explored. In many ways the core of our project - the idea of self- assemblage, behavioural organization and adaptivity - is something that we believe could change the way we perceive architectural space. The methodologies and techniques we developed to undertake the project is something we apply to our everyday work on many levels.
Is Space Oddity a critique of space tourism?
Space Oddity is not a critique of Space tourism as much as it is an attempt to push the role of the architect and architecture in realms often entirely ruled by engineers. We saw it as an opportunity to challenge architectural standards and utilize novel architectural ideas.
Lately there has being a lot of noise about space design, including contour crafting and 3D printing amongst others. We believe a lot of these projects are only solving technical issues. With Space Oddity the idea never was to fully resolve and manage a spaceship from a technical point of view, we know this can be done. The main idea was to challenge the dogmas of fixed typologies and streamlined thinking.
What are the theoretical (as opposed to the technical) challenges in designing architecture for outer space?
Considering that our intention was never to fully resolve or redesign a traditional spacecraft, we never gave too much thought to whether this would be applicable in a technical manner. On the contrary we focused on other problems like constant programmatic reconfiguration, oriented views towards earth and light management. That being said, behavioural models expressing self-organization features were created to support the project.
Good architecture should be seen as a field of bits and pieces, that together can ... create exciting spaces and experiences whilst have the durability to change and adapt over time.How can Space Oddity be applied to the architectural discourse of Earth's built environment?
The project, to a very large extent, consists of elements and considerations that, with very little alteration, could be applicable anywhere and within any context. The fact that we conducted all of our physical experiments and developed our prototypes here on earth shows until certain extent that our research is easily applicable here.
The structural joints are essentially universal and the idea of assemblage and dis-assemblage through magnetic force is nothing that couldn’t be applied here – in the same way, a dynamic organizational scheme could be an interesting one to further pursue, with little architectural precedence other than possibly Cedric Price. Likewise the dissolution of borders between floor, ceiling and walls is something that has been explored in many practices. So in the dissection of the project parts, there are very few things that we don’t see feasibly incorporating here.
What presumptions about "good" architecture does Space Oddity call to question, as being designed for a completely different context and therefore (perhaps) judged by alternate standards?
Space Oddity is coherently shaped and informed from all the factors involved on this extreme environment. In this sense the architecture that was created is one that constantly adapts and performs to human needs. The building is no longer a stable rigid block that becomes obsolete with the change of program or trend. Rather than thinking of the building as a fixed object, good architecture should be seen as a field of bits and pieces, that together can provide and accommodate for current needs, create exciting spaces and experiences whilst have the durability to change and adapt over time.
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