VI. Musings

Open Source Architecture

Chandler Ahrens, Eran Neuman, and Aaron Sprecher

The Gen[H]ome Project

“Our rooms will descend close to the ground and the garden will become an integral part of the house. The distinction between the indoors and the out-of-doors will disappear. The walls will be few, thin, and removable. All rooms will become part of an organic unit, instead of being small separate boxes with peepholes. . . . Our house will lose its front-and-back-door aspect. It will cease being a group of dens, some larger ones for social effect, and a few smaller ones (bedrooms) in which to herd the family. Each individual will want a private room to gain a background for his life. He will sleep in the open. A work-and-play room, together with the garden, will satisfy the group needs.”
—R.M. Schindler1

Architecture is Nature. The synergy between culture and nature stands at the core of Rudolph Schindler’s search for a form of domesticity that breaks away from conventional limits of architecture, starting from its historical distinction from the natural environment. The 1922 Schindler House on Kings Road constitutes probably the most extreme expression of this condition. Here, the house is no longer defined in conventional architectural terms (i.e., programmatic hierarchy) or traditional antagonisms (i.e., inside and outside spaces). Instead, the house resembles what Reyner Banham would define some forty years later as a “campfire,” which is a domestic environment that is devoid of fixed physical boundaries yet dedicated to (often deregulated) human activities. Therefore, the Schindler House can be understood in terms of its formal expression, yet what matters is the architectural system that it triggers, in other words, the possibility to approach its domesticity in non-representational terms as a sort of transparency that is profoundly physical and technological.

The Schindler House turned into an experimental laboratory on the occasion of The Gen[H]ome Project, an exhibition curated by Open Source Architecture and Kimberli Meyer. This site-specific event and catalog questioned the relationship between architecture, nature, and technology some eighty years after the construction of the seminal house. The Gen[H]ome Project united architects, media artists, and theorists around questions pertaining to the concept of domesticity and our shared perception of nature in the computational age. Greg Lynn was one of the first architects that proposed new ways of rethinking these relationships. In his 1993 seminal essay, “The Folded, the Pliant and the Supple,” Lynn establishes the notion of smoothness that assures the deployment of mathematical, formal, and physical parameters in the formation of a continuum between architecture and nature.2

For The Gen[H]ome Project, Lynn presented the first version of his Blobwall, an ensemble of curvilinear bricks that express the potentiality for countless arrangements. Karl Chu’s Planetary Automata featured a similar concern regarding the visual representation of formal multiplicities that stems from the encoding and resampling of mathematical information. In its Hylomorphic Project, Open Source Architecture addressed this condition of formal multiplicities while creating a large structure entirely designed by an artificial intelligence machine. The resulting topological structure questioned the modernist wooden structure of the house and its transformation under the impact of genetically driven structural algorithms. In AlloGen[h]ome, Marcos Novak similarly starts with the genetic code of the historic Schindler House and subjects it to mathematical mutations in order to question the nature of evolutionary models in architecture. Similar to this bottom-up approach, the design group Servo proposed Sproog, an interactive, cellular-based installation that evolved as a mediator between interior activities and the perception of exteriority, while locating the human subject as an activator of ambient space. This notion of architecture as a responsive system stands at the core of Ocean D’s work. The repetitive entities that aggregated in their installation GenLite revealed an architectural system created on the basis of formal differentiations among units. These units or lighted cells acted and reacted to the presence of the human subject in the room.

Open Source Architecture, The Hylomorphic Project, installation view. Part of The Gen[H]ome Project at the MAK Center for Art and Architecture at the Schindler House. October 29, 2006 – February 25, 2007.

Away from the representational expression of an “informed” nature, the French architect Philippe Rahm addressed the notion of domesticity in his project Polarized House. Here, the Schindler House was equipped with 50 ionizer units spreading positive and negative ions across the house as a way to physiologically affect the visitor’s mood. For Rahm, space, or rather air, is a malleable material that can actively affect the human subject. The influence on the human subject is not by the perception of a conscious mind. Rather, the work treats the subject as an organic tissue independent of its consciousness. The polarized operation on the house suggested a divided domesticity and questioned the heimlich perception of the house. Implementing advanced technologies in climate and meteorology research, Sean Lally addressed the relations between domesticity and vegetation in his work Amplification. Lally explored the potential of vegetation not only as an interior-exterior regulator based in visual and spatial technologies, but also as the product of ecological parameters controlled by machines. Similarly, the emergent condition of living organisms stands at the core of Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau’s LifeWriter, an interactive installation that invites the public to compose a text using an old-style typewriter. While the text appears projected on the paper, the natural language transforms into a formal language of a-living organisms that mutate according to a computational genetic algorithm.

The Gen[H]ome Project revealed the possibility to conceive the architectural object as a source of multiplicities and potentialities in which architecture is no longer a mere representation of nature but instead a design system that is so intimately integrated into nature that it tends to disappear within it while fostering a world that remains in a state of becoming rather than being.3

1 R.M. Schindler, “‘Care of the Body’: Shelter or Playground,” Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1926; reprinted in August Sarnitz, R.M. Schindler Architect: 1887–1953 (New York: Rizzoli, 1988), 46–47.

2 Greg Lynn, “Architectural Curvilinearity: The Folded, the Pliant and the Supple,” in Folding in Architecture, ed. Greg Lynn (Cambridge, UK: Architectural Design, 1993).

3 See Ilya Prigogine, From Being to Becoming (San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 1980).

Open Source Architecture is an architecture firm based in Los Angeles, Tel Aviv, and Montreal.

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