In the final episode of season 2, hosts Eric Jaffe and Vanessa Quirk discuss the past, present, and future of responsive architecture with Sidewalk Labs’ director of public realm Jesse Shapins, engineer and microclimate expert Goncalo Pedro, Bubbletecture author Sharon Francis, and renowned architect Liz Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
Through this conversation, the hosts and their guests shared ideas that could make cities adapt not only to nature but to the people living in them too. In fact, responsive architecture came as an answer to the traditional knowledge that “building structures don’t move, don’t change and don’t have the capability to respond and react”.
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Architects around the world explored and started to envision a different kind of architecture, less rigid in materials, time and space. The first experimentations around this subject were in the 1950s with Frank Lloyd Wright who investigated inflatable houses. On this topic, Sharon Francis stated that “the lightweight flexible instantaneous nature of inflatables provided a dichotomy against the prevailing, brutalist, modernist architectural paradigm that was of that time”.
With technology evolving, architecture could rely on certain parameters to make it much more interactive. The introduction of ETFE instead of regular plastic pushed furthermore the limits for possibilities, because of its flexibility, versatility, and resistance: it could move and adapt according to the needs of the space. Liz Diller of Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, actually explained in the conversation the approach the office took while designing the Shed, in New York City, an unusual structure made out of ETFE pillows: “making something that’s part of an urban fabric and is part of city making”. With this material, architecture achieved new levels of flexibility and created new types of spaces.
On another hand, “cities need to protect their public space”, and this is achievable through responsive architecture. This innovative theme can also help in expanding the public realm, and design “the capacity for public-ness into buildings themselves”, or in other terms blur furthermore the boundaries between buildings and public spaces, between inside and outside.