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Learning from Nature Anew
Different architects use nature within their designs in different ways. While some gain inspiration from nature to influence a built form, others use nature to fuel the mechanisms within their design solution. Yet still, nature can be used to inform a design in real-time — as architecture gains greater fluidity through interactivity.
Image Credit: © okalinichenko | Fotolia
Whatever the case, nature is integrated into architectural design in a variety of ways. For instance, I invite you to take a close look at the “Seed Cathedral” designed by Thomas Heatherwick. By preserving seeds and showcasing them in a unique way, where they appear to grow to comprise the building “skin” — an entirely new experience of nature is created where visitors can experience seeds like they have never experienced them before. (I invite you to look up the Seed Cathedral so you can see for yourself.) In this case, the architect used nature as both inspiration and tool by which to see a unique architectural expression realized.
Another way to use nature within architecture involves learning from how its mechanisms work. Innovations today pull from the genius of nature to inform how designs should be constructed. For example, there is a new rooftop coating that actually intends to make buildings “sweat” to help lower cooling costs. (1) Similar to how the body deals with cooling through sweat, these rooftops aim to do the same for buildings.
Integrating Nature to Help Architecture Evolve
So, as you design, think about how you can use nature to help your designs evolve. Perhaps there is an aspect of nature that you would like to present anew to your building occupants — to let them experience nature in a way they have never experienced it before. Also, you could take a cue from biomimcry — and begin a study of nature to pull from its genius to inform the mechanisms that make up your design.
Additionally, you can look to nature as an ecosystem, that informs the systems which make up your architectural solution. Think about how your architecture can be self-sustaining, just as nature can be. You may want to learn from the way natural systems work with each other to inform the way your architectural systems can do the same.
If your designs happen to be more fluid (more interactive), perhaps you can use nature to inform their interactions. By designing an architecture that responds to nature’s changes, greater function and aesthetics may be possible.
You may use nature to strengthen your designs. It can be used in various ways — from experiential design to biomimicry, from interactivity to self-sustaining ecosystems — nature can contribute greatly toward the design and evolution of architecture.
(1) Dillow, Clay. A New Rooftop Coating Makes Buildings Sweat to Cut Cooling Costs. Popular Science.
As evolutionary trends continue, emerging technologies are getting smaller, cheaper, and smarter — all of which push technology to become evermore ubiquitous. And as technologies continue to integrate into our daily lives through architectural environments, such innovations evolve to not only become more flexible, interactive and adaptable; but to eventually disappear.
This notion of “disappearing technology” is not a new one. In fact, during a recent seminar, Alvin Huang pointed out that the Father of Ubiquitous Computing, Mark D. Weiser, taught that “technology is at its most powerful when it disappears”. (1)
In the above image you can see technology disappearing and getting calmer in the evolution of lighting from a candle, to a tungsten bulb, to a fluorescent bulb, to a halogen bulb, to LED.
Image Credit: © chones | Fotolia
“Ubiquitous computing names the third wave in computing, just now beginning. First were mainframes, each shared by lots of people. Now we are in the personal computing era, person and machine staring uneasily at each other across the desktop. Next comes ubiquitous computing, or the age of calm technology, when technology recedes into the background of our lives.” (2) — Mark D. Weiser
This idea of “calm technology” is an interesting one as we consider how architectural technology is evolving into the future. And as such technology gets increasingly embedded in daily activities, it becomes important to ask:
What happens to environments once technology disappears?
Five Effects of “Calm” Architectural Technology
As innovations in technology evolve, they will have definite effect on environments and the occupants whom they serve. But just what effects can we expect? And how will these change the way people live? The following are five key outcomes of calmer environmental technology.
- Less resistance toward comfort: As technologies advance, they will be better able to sense (and make sense of that incoming data) to actuate better, more comfortable, environments for occupants in real-time.
- Increasingly fluid experience: Technologies will be better able to synchronize with each other to yield more fluid architectural experiences for occupants.
- More natural interfacing: The language by which occupants and architectural technology communicate will become more natural for occupants. By which a new “language” will hardly exist at all. For example, as the computer keyboard and mouse give way to hand gestures — the evolution of interfacing is showing how they physical manipulation of technology is disappearing.
- Better synergy in design integration: Technology will be more seamlessly fused with architectural design, where technology will no longer be tacked on as an afterthought during the design process.
- Easier maintenance: As technology evolves, it will become easier to maintain. Again, this is another way in which it will “disappear”.
The Architectural Technology Fusion
Finding the boundary between architecture and technology will become increasingly difficult as the two continue to merge. Each relies upon the other to yield built form that aims toward increased comfort, more fluid experience, more natural interfacing, better design integration, and easier maintenance.
So, what happens to environments when technology disappears?
Hopefully, architectural space will become more about the designer’s intended vision. It will be increasingly possible to realize the complex (1), and it will be equally possible to make it experientially meaningful. Technology for architecture is not going away, it is simply becoming a given — where space can become transient, comfortable and poetic in entirely new ways.
(1) Gerber, David and Huang, Alvin. How to Succeed in Architecture: New Trends in Computing that will Change the Architecture Profession. Novedge Webinar. Streamed live: October 2, 2014. Accessed from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWrVvlDIixU#t=815
(2) Wikipedia. Mark D. Weiser. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Weiser
As new innovations like the Apple iWatch emerge — one can’t help but explore what possibilities lie ahead as they make their way into the market. Of course, there will be a multitude of new applications that make good use of the hardware that smart watches like the iWatch use to help them interface with their human wearers.
Image Credit: © koya979 | Fotolia
But what happens to all of that information that get collected? Does it simply exist to feedback to the user, or their social networks? Surely, the information collected by smart watches can be sent to a range of professionals that know how to interpret the data — like a doctor that can make sense of the information collected daily on a wearer’s health.
But what else can be done with smart watch data?
Smart Watch Triggers Environmental Preferences
As technology gets more personalized because it is, in fact, worn by a user — data can be transmitted within their surrounding environment. In other words, the smart watch can act as a bridge between user and architecture. Here are some uses:
- Feeling hot? Smart watch sensors can tell when you are perspiring and can send a trigger to adjust room temperature. Or, the smart watch can suggest “want a nice cold glass of water?”.
- Feeling sleepy? Smart watch sensors can understand when you have fallen asleep, and thus, can trigger lights to be turned off and temperature to be slightly lowered. Essentially, it can align your activity with your desired environmental settings for that given activity.
- Feeling stressed? Smart watch sensors can understand when you are feeling stressed and can guide you through a meditation with environmental lighting and sounds to accompany your zen moment.
Smart Watch Augments Environmental Experience
The smart watch better connects you with yourself, your friends and yes, your environment. But what can happen when the environment speaks to you through your watch? What would it say? And how could this help you?
As a designer of the environment, you should be thinking about how your designed spaces will impact occupants that wear such smart sensory devices. For example, if within a museum the smart watch can augment what your occupant learns at each exhibit according to their learning style, their age, their current understanding of the subject or whatever other personalization would provide them with a rich museum experience.
You see, your architecture is gaining more ways in which it can “speak” to its occupants. Yes, aspects like light, materiality, acoustics and olfaction are still of prime importance — but so too, are architecture’s growing abilities to communicate real-time data through to its occupants. And data can take on many forms. The smart watch can send a vibration to its wearer, it can make a sound for them to hear, it can display an image and it can link these together as in a composition. Now, just imagine if these became linked to your architecture.
What if your occupant where looking up at an awe-inspiring view from within your architecture, and simultaneously the smart watch “touched” its wearer at just the right time? Would this enhance the experience? Would it detract from the experience? Or would this allow architecture to become more intimate, more personalized and more meaningful?
Synchronizing User Interface with Architecture
As you design your architecture, keep in mind that technology is growing in its ability to link to it, and this can be a good thing if you know how to strategically design for this. Think about what your architecture would say and do if it could “touch” its occupants. Understand that wearable technologies can work together with your designed environments — revealing new ways to communicate in real-world space, where user interface fuses with architecture.
New types of architectural “alignments” are becoming possible as smart wearable technologies continue to emerge. As an architect, it is up to you to find these unique, inspiring, beautiful, functional and meaningful new “alignments” between your environment and your occupants. Reach them through not only what they see, hear, touch, taste and smell — but speak to them through technology in new ways: not to distract, but to encourage, renew, provide safety, or increase happiness.