In his lecture as one of winners of the Architectural League’s annual Emerging Voices awards, David Benjamin discusses his unique approach to environmental and computational design and how it manifests itself in the work of The Living, a firm he founded in 2006.
Throughout the lecture Benjamin discusses projects that are fundamentally linked to the natural environment and ideas related to sustainability. To introduce how the firm generates new ideas, Benjamin describes a method of experimentation developed in their practice called flash research: beginning with the idea that architecture could be dynamic and responsive, these are prototypes that operate under self-created constraints such as a budget of $1000 or less and a required time span of three months or less.
Read on after the break for further synopsis of the lecture.
Some of the projects he discusses include the development of Living Glass, a thin transparent surface with “gills that breathe in response to carbon dioxide,” as well as several installations that deal with public engagement and the environment. Their project “Living City,” which began with the idea that buildings already have a lot of sensors embedded into them but lack any communication with other buildings, seeks to create a kind of built social network with information that responds to both local and global data.
Benjamin goes on to describe a unique interactive project in Seoul, which combines real-time information about the environment with a dynamic canopy in a public park. This canopy glows and blinks according to information about air quality in the city from real-time sensors, and responds to user feedback in a way that is indicative of public environmental interest. This project is just one of several by The Living that utilize environmental sensors and user interface to foster public engagement and increased environmental awareness.
The discussion of their recent constructed projects is followed by insights into their methods for digital fabrication that are open-ended and determined by feedback circles. Benjamin explains how these methods enable him to approach design with uncertainty and create new designs based on rules and relationships rather than fixed forms. This inevitably leads to a discussion of his use of computer algorithms to automatically generate, evaluate, and evolve a wide variety of possible designs. Following this, Benjamin makes the point that the computer does not eliminate human creativity, but rather attempts to provide tools to extend it. Overall, many of the strategies employed in their design process seek to encapsulate some of the behavior of adaptive and biological living systems into computation.
From Benjamin’s discussion of past projects, it is clear that technology is an integral component in The Living’s design process, and this aspect of their practice is exemplified by their recent partnership with software company Autodesk. The firm also utilizes a unique documentation strategy in which after a project is complete, instructions, specifications, circuit diagrams, and source code are released to the public. This form of documentation adopts an open-source attitude not generally seen in the architectural realm.
Benjamin completes his lecture with a description of the ideas, materials and process behind The Living’s winning entry for the MOMA PS1 Competition, Hy-Fi. In describing the design of Hy-Fi, Benjamin summarizes what seems to distinguish The Living from most architecture firms by stating that their projects come out of a larger research agenda and return to an even greater vision for the future of architecture.