Architects Michael Fox (FoxLin) and Miles Kemp (Variate Labs and Series Design/Build) put together the first version of Interactive Architecture in 2009, as a "process-oriented guide" to creating spaces that, with the help of emerging technologies, could interact with inhabitants in a variety of "pragmatic and humanistic" ways. Within just the last few years, thanks to advancements in computation and environmental design, the interactive potentials of architecture and urban spaces has expanded even more, leading to a rich experimental culture for architects and designers.
To honor these new prototypical experiments in interactive architecture, and update the 2009 text, Michael Fox has gathered eighteen global case studies together in Interactive Architecture: Adaptive World. Fox penned an introductory piece for Archinect to herald in this new age of interactive urbanism, which you can read below.
Catalyst Design in a Connected World
by Michael Fox
As we embrace a world in which the lines between the physical and the digital are increasingly blurred, we see a maturing vision for architecture that actively participates in our lives. In the few years since the original Interactive Architecture was published, a number of projects have been built at scales that both move beyond the scope of the architectural exhibit as test bed and push the boundaries of our thinking in terms of material performance, connectivity, and control.
Essentially, our architectural surroundings have become so inextricably tied to technological trends that the two ultimately and simultaneously respond to and define each other. The promise of ubiquitous computing has now secured a permanent foothold in our lives and has begun to infiltrate pretty much everything, from our devices to our buildings and environments.
Such is our physical world today: one that is not just digital, but also seamlessly networked and connected, an architectural world that is a direct participant in our lives.
The subject of Interactive Architecture is how architectural design integrates and negotiates the digital; in our contemporary context, this is nothing short of reciprocal innovation. This book surveys the rapidly evolving landscape of projects and trends that are finally catching up with the past. As a matter of definition, interactive architectural environments are built upon the convergence of embedded computation and a physical counterpart that satisfies adaptation within the framework of interaction. It encompasses both buildings and environments that have been designed to respond, adapt, change, and come to life.
Sensors available today can discern almost anything from complex gestures to CO2 emissions to hair color. An interconnected digital world means, in addition to having sensory perception, that data sets, ranging from Internet usage to traffic patterns and crowd behaviors, can be drivers of interactive buildings or environments.
Perhaps equally as important as the rapid advance of such technologies is the fact that both robotics and interaction are finally both technically and economically accessible. The requisite technologies are simple enough to enable designers who are not experts in computer science to prototype their ideas in an affordable way and communicate their design intent. The field is fresh with original ideas, illuminated by the built prototypes and architectural projects illustrated in this book. Driven by the applications, these genuinely new developments and ideas will rapidly foster advanced thinking within the discipline; yet it is important to understand that their foundations have been around for quite some time, dating back nearly thirty years.
The influence of technological and economic feasibility within a connected world has resulted in the explosion of current exploration with the foundations of interaction design in architecture. The Internet of Things (IoT) has quite rapidly come to define the technological context of interactive design as all-inclusive, existing within this connectedness in a way that affects essentially everything, from graphics to objects to buildings to cities. To use an architectural analogy, the theoretical foundations have a structure that resides in the connected worlds of Web and mobile and spatial interfacing, and they are still evolving. Theories of a connected architectural world existed long before mobile devices and Web-interface technologies changed every aspect of our lives and created the discipline of interaction design.
While the first wave of connectivity focused on human-to-human communication, the current focus is on connected things and devices, which extends naturally to buildings, cities, and global environments. It is the goal (and responsibility) of the Internet of Things to connect the approximately fifty billion smart devices in a meaningful way. These intelligent things are everywhere in our lives, and many of them are already seamlessly embedded in our architecture, from our kitchen appliances and our HVAC systems to our home entertainment systems.
The point is that interactions are no longer limited to those of people interacting with an object, environment, or building, but can now be carried out as part of a larger ecosystem of connected objects, environments, and buildings that autonomously interact with each other.
Architectural applications are iterative in such a connected context. The sensors and robotic components are now both affordable and simple enough for the design community to access, and all of the parts can easily be digitally connected to each other. Designing interactive architecture in particular is not inventing, so much as understanding what technology exists and extrapolating from it to suit an architectural vision. In this respect, the designers of buildings, cities, and larger interconnected ecosystems have learned a great deal from the rapidly developing field of tangible interaction: essentially an alternate vision for interfacing that was developed to bring computing back into the real world.
Philosophically, interactive architecture is in a unique position to reposition the role of the designer. This role should be less about creating a finished design and more about catalyzing— about asking how a design may evolve. In a sense, designing interactive architecture should be an egoless, emergent endeavor that lies in designing the platform for the future, not the future itself. Such a position is both noble and profound, for it means the designer must understand people well enough to be able to design for them while also designing interfaces and tools such that people can in turn become designers. The projects in this area define an architecture that goes beyond the mere capacity to interact to reposition designers as catalysts who can adapt and evolve with the world around them.
It is impossible to predict how quickly interactive architecture will be widely executed or what applications will work their way to the fore. Yet the projects in Interactive Architecture illustrate that such projects are becoming an inevitable and completely integral part of how we will make our buildings environments and cities in the future. The platform is ripe to foster unique applications tied to our living trends, which both affect and are affected by digital technology. The projects in the book document a select number of pioneering projects that are defining the future of interaction. The projects, illuminated firsthand by images and text from the architects and designers who created them, give insight into the technology and construction that will be an inevitable and integral part of how we think about architecture. Specific categorical areas have consequently come to the fore as designers have pioneered this new area of design. Therefore the projects are organized not by how they are made or how they look, but rather according to what they do: exhilarate, communicate, mediate, evolve, and catalyze.
"Interactive Architecture" is available for purchase on Amazon.