Transforming Space: Encouraging the User to Interact
The following paragraph was submitted as a response to the Individual Case Study in which transformable architecture was the chosen topic:
A multi-interpretive and multi-dimensional art, architecture transforms space, and should therefore transform itself to create space. To illustrate this idea, the accompanying visual describes two characters that are able to manipulate architecture. The depicted narrative of these characters blurs which transfigured space is inside and which is outside. Character Blue, situated outside, manipulates his surroundings to unfold a piece of architecture. As the architecture unfolds, it has the potential to divide space or be inhabited. Fully expanded, character Blue then uses the architecture to enhance his experience of the exterior. Concurrently, character Orange transforms an exterior object into an interior piece of architecture by inserting it into character Blue’s structure. By directly interacting with the making of the architecture, each character’s perception of space is altered. The result is a human-scaled space that celebrates a “both/and” condition, enjoyed from both the interior and the exterior.
Obviously, architecture transforms all of the time: doors open into rooms or close off hallways, windows decide the fate of the wind and curtains curtail the sun’s exposure. These moves are required as practical functions in building, but why stop at practical? The design cliché, “Form Follows Function,” has run its course. In its place are phrases that describe form as function, form and function, or form as intrinsic to an organism’s function, as is the case with biomimetic architecture. Ultimately, the function should form the form, and the form should transform the function. This is to say that the user should interact with the architecture to transform it in a way that best suits the event at hand. OMA’s Prada Transformer is an example of this new mantra at a mega scale. With the help of a crane, the four-sided shape of the Prada Transformer can be reoriented to accommodate the program. At a small scale, Nervous System, a Cambridge, Massachusetts based design firm, is taking cues from both transformative architecture and bio-mimicry. By studying natural patterns, Nervous System creates rigid structures with moving tectonics. The result is a patterned mesh that can be pushed or pulled while retaining a form. If scaled up, it is exciting to imagine such a mesh as an architectural façade where the user can push or pull to alter the boundaries of a space.
The idea of a transformative building façade seems like the perfect solution for an architecture that engages both the inside and the outside. It is at the outermost layer of a building that the interior and exterior meet in tension, pushing against one another with the hope of breaking through to the other side. The moment of rupture results, perhaps, in a threshold that lingers between inside and out, or a pocket of space that configures for both outside and in. Ilaria Mazzoleni equates the building envelope to the skin of an animal in her book, Architecture Follows Nature: Biomimetic Principles for Innovative Design. “Skin is understood as an interface, transcending its surface, giving the appearance of something that separates, but instead acts as a threshold or boundary, allowing for interaction with the elements in multiple directions, scales, and timeframes,” she writes. The idea of direction for a skin is important, and combined with Mazzoleni’s use of “timeframes” begins to encourage said skin to cross dimensions. The mirrored glass facade of Fabio’s Restaurant by BEHF Architekten transforms physically and spatially by folding from a two-dimensional plane of glass into a three-dimensional form. When flat, the façade reflects the exterior space around it, giving the illusion that the space is larger. When folded, the façade creates an interior-like space on the city street. Similarly, Giselbrecht + Partner Architects provide a skin that can be pushed aside by the user in their lab at the Technical University in Graz. In conjunction with a second skin behind the operable one, pockets of interior/exterior space are formed within the façade.
These ideas of transformative architecture center around the user. Architecture exists for people, and therefore it should be easily adaptable to the many changes people need to make throughout their day. There are many facades that operate on a digital system, such as louvers that adjust to the angle of the sun. The user is merely a by-product of the workings of these systems, however, rather than a direct catalyst to changing the space. The Rietveld Schröder house is an early example of the impact moving partitions can have on changing space. The design encourages interaction between house and owner, with walls so easily pushed the children of the house can create an open play space in the day, and a closed sleep space at night. The flexibility of the plan allows the owner to operate in many rooms at once, one continuous space, or a hybrid of spaces depending on what is partitioned. More recently, Bureau Spectacular is an architecture firm that also encourages interaction within their transformative designs. Bordering on performance art, the Hefner/Beuys House is an installation scaled project consisting of entire segments that can be reoriented. By flipping these segments, also known as “super furniture,” the user can play with conceptions of public or private space, inside or outside space, and even actual space or furniture within a larger space.
Whether it be the grand gesture of pushing aside a façade, the physical effort of rotating a piece of super furniture, or the simple move of opening a door, the act of transforming architecture allows the user to participate in making space. As exemplified by Nervous System’s moving tectonics, Giselbrecht + Partner’s sliding facades, and Bureau Spectacular’s reconfigurable sculptures, the idea of transformation can be implemented at any scale. By designing with this concept in mind, architecture is not limited to either an interior room or an exterior room, but both. Rather than beginning with a form, architects may begin first by imagining experiences, and then imagining the interactive method users can employ to bridge these experiences. The result is a multi-dimensional, multi-spatial, and multi-friendly set of spaces.