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Performative Expression In Architecture

“Architecture might not work anymore. That is to say, the idea that architecture is the act of producing functional machines that ideally have some evidence of how they were made might be outdated. Truth be told, this notion of functional expression is a modernist one, and maybe it should fade away, like so many outdated ideas about and within the discipline. That might be especially necessary because so much of our current idiom is based on old-fashioned modes of production. “ Aaron Betsky, Architect

With the not so recent demise of the modern expression in architecture we are now looking for a new one, but has that not been the case for some time now? Sustainability or “Green” is a contender, but now people are saying that the downfall of sustainability is technology  –why such a dichotomous argument? The reality might be something simpler what if it were tech and green? I would suggest that with the recent Great Recession came a great reworking of priorities. That in addition to the super-hero like monikers of Big Data we are entering an era of Performative Architecture.

Most architects are going to cringe if not throw-up at this but the architectural understanding of space, be it programmatically, form, energy efficiency, or actual use patterns could use a little upgrade.  The first inspiring things that comes to my mind is Foursquare, a  crowdsourced location base system of collecting data. The recent FourSquare and Microsoft deal is all about getting at user data.  This, and Crowleys first, was not the intent at the beginning of FourSquare but an outcome of years of collecting data from users and then retroactively analyzing their life in digital spaces.  It does not seem like that far of a leap to suggest some kind of crowdsourced location based system for buildings.  A quick search produces some on the horizon, Micro-location and Local Positioning Systems (LPS).  All the nefarious tin-foil hat arguments, and annoying “marketing potential” for location based knowledge in buildings aside, what this technology has the potential to provide is an infrastructure to collect and ‘geo-tag’ data.  I use the geo-tag term loosely, think 3-d vertical tagging instead of the current “flat’ gps location. As far as I can tell there are only a handful of people doing this iBeacon is one and NFC is another … a kind of Field of Dreams for building data. That is flippn’ amazing!

The second part to performative architecture has to be performance in particular reference to energy in our buildings.  Submetering has been a wicked problem for awhile and I think people are starting to figure this out., though it is still ‘black box’.  Quite a few start-ups in this area such as TED5000 or WattVision which help building owners collect data about energy use.  There are also PlotWatt, Bidgley that then display this information and help you decide where to cut costs. Of coarse industry base companies like Intelen are collecting energy use data on a large scale.

All this data collection is interesting but in my mind is not the end-all be-all.  If we were to look at what we will produce through a lense of performative expression in architecture then I think a cogent example would be Sci-Arc’s CHIP, the 2011 Solar Decathlon House. This is a building that was designed to perform to a new standard and to do it an an unabashed way. In some of their writing it is clear that the team was concerned not with ‘Design’ as usual but the unresolved issues of tomorrow.  As a result it displays a key part of the performance, the team generously used the insulation on the outside.  This is a sticking point for some people when building to PassiveHaus or other super-Energy  Efficient standards  the client says something to the effect of “why should I spend money on materials that are not seen”.  This is one of the most poignant examples of Conspicious Conservation I have seen.

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