Architecture is a swarm, and a self aware one at that. That's the vision presented by noMad: a built environment made of Buckminster Fuller-like geometric structures that compile themselves entirely autonomously, according to data gathered and processed by the units. Developed by Architectural Association students Dmytro Aranchii, Paul Bart, Yuqiu Jiang, and Flavia Santos, on a basic level noMad's concept is fairly simple - a small unit of motors that is attached to several magnetic faces, which can be reoriented into different shapes. Put multiple units together, however, and noMad's vision becomes an entirely new form of architecture: non-finite, mobile and infinitely adaptable.
As noMad's video demonstrates, motorized units are capable of expansion, linear movement and rotational movement. Together, strings of these units are capable of assembling themselves into rudimentary structures, can function as their own cranes and reinforce themselves if needed by rapidly passing units along the structure. So far, noMad is an innovative and well engineered unit of building that can reconfigure itself; while certainly an achievement, it's a relatively standard feature of futurist architecture - it's even a fairly similar concept to one recently deployed in Disney Pixar's Big Hero 6, which uses collaborative nano-bots to similar effect.
What separates this from many proposals is the level of plausible robotics put into the concept and prototypes. Developed with the help of the world's leading robotics labs at Cornell and MIT, the prototypes, while relatively slow moving and cumbersome, can actually do what the team claim. The second separation is that all this isn't being directed by someone at the side of the site: each unit moves itself. Basic movements and sensors are built and programmed into the units and as more units join, the creators claim and hope that noMad will be able to network itself and form a swarm intelligence - the team themselves call it "trivial AI."
Should the swarm intelligence aspect come to fruition, the project changes entirely. Mobile isn't very useful without reactive; together noMad is a plausible leap into futurism. But while it's plausible, is there a reason for it to exist in real life? Besides forming a kind of public artwork or installation, there's little that these moving mega-structures are shown to practically do in the team's presentation. For some, this proposal will raise the question "what is the point of all this?"
But for some what it can do is enough; it certainly will be enough to deserve existence. The astonishing proposal of thousands of noMad units moving autonomously around London is seductive for people who are fond of futurist ideas and an incredible feat of engineering, and perhaps deserves recognition simply for its connection of an implausible future with an engineered solution.
Program: MArch thesis
Theme: Architectural Behaviourial Modular System
University: AADRL (Architectural Association, Design Research Laboratory), London, UK
Team: Dmytro Aranchii (Ukraine), Paul Bart (Germany), Yuqiu Jiang (China), Flavia Santos (Brazil)
Tutor: Mostafa El Sayed
Studio: Theodore Spyropoulos Studio