Future Space

by David Lehman, HUSH

  • Beyond Architecture

    David Lehman
    Dec 13, '17 2:04 PM EST

    Renzo Piano and Richard Roger’s submission to international competition for the Centre Pompidou, Paris

    I’m not an architect, I’m something stranger. Yes, I graduated from architecture school, where I learned architectural process and history, but I never intended to stay strictly in the world of buildings. Instead, I was preparing myself for a broader approach to design. 

    Working with architects all over the world, I’ve come to appreciate those who understood architectural design as both a technical craft and an expressive medium. It’s also about creatively meeting a certain challenge and building an experience. But, as being an architect has increasingly become a multidisciplinary effort, incorporating elements of technology, content and graphic design, the professional experience has less and less to do with strictly architecture. 

    The result is a type of designer that’s harder to define; architects with solutions beyond architecture. And that’s ok. The world doesn’t need traditional architects or designers. It needs thought leaders that are both accepting of the changes taking place in the broader world and empathetic to the people and industries being affected. The architecture and design industries need people to provide a vision for what the technologically-driven future of experience can become. 

    More Than Stone and Steel

    Architects have always coordinated a variety of disciplines in order to create one holistic experience. Traditionally, those mediums included things like steel, glass, plumbing, and stone. However, as the world became more complex, so did the disciplines being integrated within built environments. 

    Vladimir Tatlin’s design for Monument for the Third International, 1919

    Early examples of this included architects considering moving images as part of an experience. Vladimir Tatlin’s design for Monument for the Third International in 1919, included projectors, screens, spotlights and speakers within a soaring structure three times taller than the Eiffel Tower. Decades later, in 1969, Renzo Piano and Richard Roger’s famous submission to international competition for the Centre Pompidou in Paris included a gigantic “digital” facade. By concepting and designing a multi-faceted form of visual display, these architects laid the groundwork for today’s architecture that’s not just striking, but integrates different technological elements to increase engagement. 

    The Embrace of Technology

    What’s happening in our current era is even more interesting. Architects are considering not just screens and projectors, but also content. The question is no longer simply how architects build a space or structure and where to place a screen or digital surface, but what viewers see on that surface and why anyone should care. Architects have to think in terms of an overall story - not just a structure - and technology is playing an increasingly crucial role in disrupting architecture's traditional methodologies. This often forces environmental designers to think more like film directors than like architects. 

    That’s not to imply that architects hate technology. In fact, most love technology, though some are more comfortable with it than others. This discomfort has as much to do with the technical aspects as it does the philosophical. Technology demands that architects adopt a multidisciplinary approach or take a back seat to directors, technologists and others, and that’s not always easy. 

    Still, what makes a great drummer in a band? The ability to solo every song? Definitely not.

    Knowing when to lead with your medium and when to support other types of designers is now one of the most essential skills in commercial architectural work. It requires that architects be confident in their abilities even if they aren’t showcasing them. It also requires that they take pleasure in the collective experience they are making with other artists and designers.  If designers can coordinate disciplines correctly, the technological hardware and content itself can tell a powerful story while the surrounding architecture can play an important, more supportive role. 

    Putting It Into Practice

    That doesn’t mean there’s no central place for architects in experience design. I remember when our creative partners at Google’s Zoo team wanted to express the relationship of the Google brand and its data through non-typical digital interactions. This eventually became our “Deep City” installation. As the Design Director of the project at HUSH, I saw an opportunity to really push form and materiality into the experience, so we took an architecturally forward approach. Data on screens has been done. Data integrated into materials is a greener pasture. We stacked sculptural blocks of 1” thick milled acrylic blocks in front of 108 square feet of a suspended Pixelflex digital tiles. We made a circular enclosure of 18 dichroic glass panels supported with a water-jet-cut aluminum skeleton and embedded OLED screens. We suspended a 36-foot sculptural digital display surface overhead. All of these activations were full of technology and code as well and provided an amazing opportunity to design something with architectural design at the center.

    Google “Deep City” NYC Headquarters Experience

    But this can’t always be the case. Sometimes you don’t have the opportunity to do something that is as physically expressive. For example, the luxury real estate developer Toll Brothers City Living came to us and said: we know you make sophisticated installations, so design one that tells the story of our new OMA-designed building. When we analyzed the sales gallery context that the installation would live within and honed in on the story we should tell, we realized that making something physically complicated wouldn’t serve a greater purpose. Instead, we produced some amazing original live action video content and displayed it in a physical way that referenced the architectural form of the building itself. Architecturally, it was creative, but it was also very simple. 

    This is the new normal. Architectural craft doesn’t mean being the loudest person in the room. It’s taking the time to technically think through a project start to finish. It’s enabling partners to not only understand the project, but also get excited and add to their thoughts and expertise to the process. It’s about creating artistic and emotional impact, not just structures.

    The Story Says It All

    Technology is dramatically changing everything, including architecture. Every industry sector, from luxury to sports, retail to residential, is being massively disrupted. But as technology becomes more and more a part of all our experiences, the narratives built by multidisciplinary teams, designers, and artists are the key to finding meaning in a world overloaded with meaningless pixels and data.

    The shiny novelty of new tech dissolves the moment you walk away. Whether AR, VR, AI, 4K, 8K, reactive, or machine learning, only the stories and intentions created by technology will endure. That’s why the days of architects operating simply as architects are over. Architects and designers must work together to master whatever tools are available - code, asphalt, sound or light - because the only value in these mediums is in their perception. Great structures and futuristic interfaces can be exciting, but people only show up to experience one consistent thing: the story told within the building, environment or machine.

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    Google “Deep City” NYC Headquarters Experience

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About this Blog

An exploration of the worlds of design and architecture, showcasing how the industry’s push toward tech driven, multidisciplinary approaches will ultimately come to define the spaces in which we work, live, buy, interact, and find inspiration.

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