The study of dynamic forces and transformative powers is a current preoccupation of many professionals operating in different disciplines, including art, architecture and fashion. We live in a society immersed in the fast and faster rhythms of constant change and transition, so it is only natural for such a topic to capture our imagination.
Yet while it is almost too easy to imagine the power of transformative energies in fashion, it is somehow more difficult to think about dynamic solutions in architecture. Though the latter reflects the changes in our society, buildings are static structures that can not transform themselves. Or can they? This is the core question of a new Architectural Association (AA) Rome Visiting School workshop that will be taking place in Rome this May.
Entitled "Form as (Dynamic) Unknown" and directed by Lorenzo Vianello, architect at Foster + Partners, and Arturo Tedeschi, architect and independent researcher, the ten-day workshop will develop as an experimental laboratory exploring kinetic interactive structures. Current architectural studies – like researches into lamellar structures inspired by bones developed by a team including Vianello – have focused on transformative structures capable of growing, changing and almost developed a life of ther own.
The workshop participants will analyse new solutions, moving from design innovators including Leonardo Da Vinci, designing robotic systems inspired by nature and projects that adapt to environmental conditions and social behaviours at real and virtual levels that move from early researches such as the utopian servicing grid set to replace the entire built environment defined SuperSurface and theorised by SuperStudio, the Italian group founded in the late '60s that produced a series of films on acts aimed at the philosophical and anthropological re-building of architecture in a series of adaptable processes.
The workshop - held by the two directors with Lawrence Friesen, tutor at the AA, and Josef Musil, architect at Foster + Partners – will be structured into three main stages that include tutorials on digital parametric modelling with Grasshopper and robotics with Arduino board. Students will develop their projects, using analogue and digital techniques, experiments on physical models and develop their own interpretation of the complex and unpredictable future of architecture. Can architecture transform itself and will it be possible to develop active and dynamic structures that change with ourselves? Looks like we may be able to do so.
How was the previous AA Rome Visiting School workshop about Sergio Musmeci?
Lorenzo Vianello: What was really interesting in the previous workshop was that Sergio Musmeci was a contemporary example of how architecture can be designed. He broke away from the modernism of Le Corbusier that considered the plan as a "generator". Musmeci was an example for the students in terms of designing in 3D space where you deal with dynamic and active forces and also with the conditions of a specific context. The main difference between Musmeci's process and the students' modus operandi was that when he designed the Basento Bridge for example, he had to set up a large laboratory with staff working on scale models and that took a lot of effort and time, but now with the use of digital simulation for example the students could carry out similar projects with equal geometrical precision and in a shorter amount of time thanks to a computer and a software.
The main topic of this new workshop is very intriguing: we usually think about buildings - and therefore our urban environments - as static things, but we have seen a number of advanced projects that look at transformative architecture, buildings that change and morph or that grow by themselves: what inspired you the main theme of this session?
Lorenzo Vianello: In every period of time you have different needs for what regards space. The elevator was developed to allow human beings to move vertically and therefore occupy space in a very efficient way. Right now our society is changing, is in constant movement and therefore needs an adaptable space that changes and transforms everytime, that is why we have chosen to deal with this topic in the workshop.
Which contemporary architects are exploring and analysing in depth this theme at the moment?
Lorenzo Vianello: There are currently a lot of architects who have been studying this theme, we can mention for example Jean Nouvel with his Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, characterised by a façade that can transform when hit by a different setting of lights.
Do you feel that nature can inspire us in creating such transformative structures and shapes?
Lorenzo Vianello: We do not invent anything - that's granted - so we must get inspired by things that we see in nature because nature has a lot of beautiful and efficient elements and solutions and we, as designers, have the duty to create something that is functional and that also has an aesthetic relevance.
In which ways do you hope the workshop students will tackle new solutions in architecture and urbanism?
Lorenzo Vianello: Students will have to go beyond what they see in magazines and what is the actual contemporary architecture, but they will also have to go beyond experiments from previous architects such as Superstudio, in a nutshell, they will have to push the boundaries!
Pushing the boundaries was what Supertudio used to do, how can the SuperSurface theorised by this group help us developing a blueprint for an architectural organism rather than just a project for a building?
Lorenzo Vianello: The SuperSurface was a provocation, it was a project and not a real city that was supposed to get built. It was a city without buildings where people carried with them ideas and exchanged information. Nowadays we have cities with thousands, millions of data and we don't know what to do about them, this is exactly what the research behind the workshop is about - finding ways to open up and listen to all these information, in this way the city theorised by Superstudio can become something more realistic.
What fascinates you about contemporary architecture: the possibilities it can create or the new technologies involved?
Lorenzo Vianello: Contemporary architecture fascinates me because it is in constant change, and it's brilliant to have the chance to contribute to it and direct it towards new frontiers, also thanks to the visiting school lectures that allow the students to contribute to the international debate.
In which ways do you feel new tools such as the Arduino platform will help architects "programming" the future?
Lorenzo Vianello: We are dealing with complex architectures and Arduino and other digital tools can help us designing projects that take into account a lot of information, that deal with the environment and the society. The human brain can't take everything into account, that's why we need to partner with a computer to produce more complex design projects.
Can you tell us more about the digital tools that the workshop participants will be using in the course?
Lorenzo Vianello: The workshop is mainly about design so we are open to any digital tools, in particular we teach Grasshopper, at beginners and advanced level. This is the most popular and powerful parametric modelling tool at the moment. We are very interested also in exploring other functions for Grasshopper, we have also an add on called Goat with a bespoke function for our workshop. This component can give the computer an artificial intelligence, which means the computer can have a dialogue with a person and learn from the user and this learning is not just about physical but also psychological needs. Our workshop is the only one that will be using this bespoke function.
You're Italian, do you have a favourite Italian architect?
Lorenzo Vianello: My favourite Italian architect is Carlo Scarpa. I'm in love with his architecture for many reasons, all different. The main reason is his sensibility to materials: in contemporary architecture we often see beautiful renderings but in white plastic materials and this leaves us often unsure about the outcomes. I think we can not ignore the research that Carlo Sarpa did, and we will have to go back to it in a near future to create genuine avant-garde architectures.
AA Rome Visiting School: Form As (Dynamic) Unknown, Galleria di architettura "Come Se", via dei Bruzi 4, 00185 Rome, Italy, 8th-19th May 2013. For further information please contact the directors at the email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Images 2 - 3 : 'Waving' by Gaetano De Francesco, Luigi Olivieri, Nicolay Loukianov and Giorgia Gerardi (AA Rome Visiting School 2012)
Image 4: 'Stitch Interpolated System' by Gabriele Menconi, Pietro Odaglia, Mattia Santi and Francesca Silvi (AA Rome Visiting School 2012)
Image 5: 'CUTenary' by Andrea Galli, Alessandra Lazzoni, Lorenzo Ruggero Maina and Corrado Marcellino (AA Rome Visiting School 2012)
Image 6: 'Synopsis' by Faisal Al Barazi, Michela Falcone, Myrto Grigori and Vittorio Paris (AA Rome Visiting School 2012)
Image 7: 'The Euler Mass' by Davide Lombardi, Gabriele Stancato and Rishabh Khurana (AA Rome Visiting School 2012)
Image 8: 'Magnetic Emergence' by Gabriela Lauria, Marco Rubio, Norbert Jundt and Vincenzo Caputo (AA Rome Visiting School 2012)
Image 9: 'Rome Sails' by Davide Aceto, Eugenio Aglietti, Luca Ciliani and Giuseppe Carbè (AA Rome Visiting School 2012)
Video 1: 'Magnetic Emergence' by Gabriela Lauria, Marco Rubio, Norbert Jundt and Vincenzo Caputo (AA Rome Visiting School 2012)
Video 2: 'The Euler Mass' by Davide Lombardi, Rishabh Khurana and Gabriele Stancato (AA Rome Visiting School 2012)
Video 3: 'Stitch Interpolated System' by Gabriele Menconi, Pietro Odaglia, Mattia Santi and Francesca Silvi (AA Rome Visiting School 2012)
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