A.D. Article; 'Stretch City'


S T R E T C H   C I T Y

As we focus on more specific, minute and personal points,  issues so broad in their impact arise that they can only be sited in the most universal contexts.  Outside any one discipline the most private, invisible and atomic scales have become part of the largest peripheral concerns- individual point and collective periphery are becoming one continuum.


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T H E   C O N T E X T

Now that most of the West lives in cities and with the support systems of science, we are no longer natural creatures.  However, as the manmade environment becomes increasingly complex, it becomes as closely allied to a natural chaotic transformative order as to the Victorian linear and mechanical world.  The workings of a city become less visible as they become more efficient; today, pace Mies van der Rohe, less is both far less and far more than before. With the capacity to create smart materials and mechanisms less than one billionth of a millimetre in size, M V der R would find that honesty to materials and programmes in our cities can now only be interpreted if specifically expressed.  City life now requires the architect to tell stories of fantastic truth to materials and employ theatrical exaggeration to express the changing lives that increasingly go unseen.  Seemingly simple occurrences of natural life are usually the result of an accumulative effect of transformation, revealing hidden complexities; but whose influence is continually converting local species or environments.  If we make no attempt to express the complex transformations and workings of our cities and buildings, we will soon be as unaware of the influences around us as primitive man was of chaotic nature. To become involved in an environment, to interpret and understand its workings, is to transform and create it physically.  A city where every individual can externalise their changing lifestyles as they require a change of scene, enables a more stimulating environment to develop over time. Constructive reinvention of self and space is rejuvenating; without renewed environmental stimulation individuals and cities age through the destructive process of entropy. In a roundabout way the maintenance of a life or city can be seen as an incremental exchange between decay and construction, conditions of entropy and self-reinvention.


T H E   I N H A B I T A N T S

As we have become more aware of our selves and personal space, our ethical concerns have become more universal.  Rozak in “Unfinished Animal” explains how in the Western world, with less distraction from immediate danger or material need, postwar generations have a new awareness of personality and health that coincides with environmental issues.  As our awareness of self and environmental health increases, so will our awareness of environmental ill-health.  Thus our motivation to interpret and adapt our situations and environments increases.  DIY, recycling and energy efficiency are all placebo remedies for just such efforts to transform the environment.  However, as most of our environments are becoming increasingly difficult to interpret and individually transform,  today’s popular environmental efforts are more than simple ecological self-preservation and sustainability; they are part of an evolving lifestyle where individuals now want to have more direct involvement with the environment.



T H E   B U I L D I N G S

As popular demand and new legislation warrant healthier and more environmentally aware products and buildings, we are mostly only equipped today to have less negative influence on the environment.  However, buildings that make use of all local impacts and cumulative transformations they themselves effect could be designed to benefit inhabitants and surroundings over time in more positive ways.  To a certain degree buildings, like bodies, transform as they are lived in.  The extent to which buildings do so, and have impact on the environment, should be augmented.  A building’s continued transformation relies on both durability and flexibility, and like a Chinese whisper, it requires a fabric which involves and encourages the ‘player’ to adopt then adapt it.  Continued adaptation is the means by which the game – and architecture – maintains itself; it is as complex, chaotic and transformative as it is linear, mechanical and constructed.  Buildings designed for continuous multi-player transformations would, by the regular movements of habitation, allow the building/inhabitant relationship actively to impact on surroundings and self.  This suggests a transformative ecology of architecture where buildings are reliant on each other, their context and inhabitants’ changing lives for their growth and maintenance.


T H E   S T R U C T U R E

For buildings and inhabitants to transform their spaces to develop incrementally more than they consume relies on transforming as many physical aspects of the surroundings as possible. A structure might create more energy than it uses by making exchanges of heat at surplus periods with, say, local species to begin a feedback loop with implications for food, insulation, materials and waste.  Environmental responsibility in this case is the ‘ability to respond’ to as many of the known constituents of a locality as possible, not just sun and energy concerns – for example metals, waste, electromagnetics, capillary pressure, moisture, air pollutants, wind, toxins, all species including micro-organisms, and visitors of any kind. This structure differs because it relies on life and not abstract energy economics to generate its own power, food, and extra space. It also differs from the mechanistic approach of saving devices because as an architecture it relies on as many aspects of inhabitants’ (including non-human) life as possible. A growing building offers the fledgling discipline of evolutionary toxicology, a playground for alerting us to possible crossovers between ourselves, technology and nature.  Humanity has been adapting the environment and transforming the path of evolution for a long time, ever since we began developing skills like walking and tool-making. Yet if we become too effective in our skills, we endanger our life and that of our surroundings. Our strength now lies in the ability to create fantasy, future heritages, and to be adaptable. With growing structures we see human and environmental evolution unfolding almost daily; thus, over time, we can adapt our behaviour and our transformations accordingly.


T H E   D E T A I L S

To grow transforming vernaculars for each plot’s resources, and the multiple plays and changes being made by its inhabitants of whatever species, requires an attention attractor.  Details are needed to encourage the full attention and continued involvement of inhabitants.  All highly complex systems are too complex for any one individual to understand, yet possibly because of this they fascinate and appear to be live or beautiful –  consider the Chinese whisper, or a fire, or even two trillion crawling nanite machines reconfiguring in the sun. The presence of details that involve a building’s players, by being meaningless enough for urban appreciation and complex enough to fascinate the senses, can bring our attention into public space.  Such interactions both calm and exhilarate and, unlike advertising, would not overload since there is no intellectual content.  Thus a building’s detail might directly encourage environmental involvement.  Details could include any of the following: cross-pollinisation, insect colonies, nanite co-ordination, vines, water walls, self-replicating adhesive phosphorescent micro-organisms, toxin- converting species, soil conversion, chemically productive species, cohesive sound waves, hose cages (see fig 1), meniscus action (see fig 3), skin tissue and support trellising (see fig 1), water-flow static energy and gyroscopic energy (see figs 1 and 3), DNA programmed formwork (see fig 2). In short, the various species or materials that exist in an environment do so by reason of their different but interactive attributes: in this combination of construction and decay lies the scope for positive growth.


T H E   A R C H I T E C T S

Today, as people are more informed about environment and health, architects increasingly need to invest in the inhabitants’ positive involvement in their buildings. Also, the architect needs to have a more malleable concept of a building’s longer-term roles in society and the environment. Building completion could become more like building birthing, followed by retainership care; the architect could offer a more extendable service – where Architecture itself becomes a service.  To achieve ongoing perceived ‘health’ in groups of inhabitants, the architect will need broadly preventative design solutions specific to each group’s changing conditions – from homeopathic bicamerality to traditional medicine, sympathetic or prosthetically transformed space. The degree to which we the participants are influenced is dictated by the extent to which we perceive and are able to make transformations in our space.  Like the placebo effect, involvement is half the solution; the other half is the ability to participate actively in any transformation.  It is standard practice to take out a patent on a design proposition that is not entirely feasible, calculating that it will be so in the near future. In which case truly innovative semi-fictional propositions can claim precedence over more feasible, practical ones.  Designing with the future in mind offers much to the architect’s design skills, as all design deals with a future not yet built. With skills part science, part social fiction – the architect’s capacity to tell good stories can clarify public understanding of the transformations that are occurring now and in the future, and involve inhabitants in them.  As these transformations become less visible and more complex, so the stories need to become either more complex (and then no longer stories but explanations) or more expressive and theatrical. Yet as we discussed at the beginning of this article, the tools with which an architect works today are themselves of the order of fiction.  Thus who is to say that the most fantastical architectural solution is not in fact the most practical?  Ultimately, it is for the reader/player/inhabitant to interpret.