Muge Belek and Frederico Fialho of [f]FLAT presented an insightful lecture which challenges the boundaries of the architectural discipline as it stands.
Muge and Frederico run [f]FLAT Architectures, a practice and research platform which straddles the disciplines of architecture and media art. Their work spans many scales and mediums all underpinned by an overarching landscape known as Transarchitecture. In a broad sense Transarchitecture engages with the space between the virtual and material. [f]FLAT engages with the landscape through ‘transvergent modes of design’ and a transdisciplinary approach focusing on knowledge sharing and understanding between disciplines and engaging with ‘experience based understanding’. Through this lecture Muge and Frederico were able to extrapolate where their work sat within this broad landscape.
With work ranging from built installations to production of virtual realities [f]FLAT anchor their work through three grounding concepts; Parametricism, Algorithms and Interaction. The first, Parametricism, is explored through a 2012 project entitled ‘Manta Project’. The installation played with reactive acoustics and consisted of a parametric surface integrated with a winch system. The surface shifts and changes in reaction to sound. In this case the project was driven by an interest in parametric geometry and acoustics.
…their understanding of algorithms explores the parametric design of behaviour as opposed to geometry.
Algorithms became the main focus of Muge and Frederico’s 2006 project ‘BioPhotonic Avatar’. The pair explained their interest in how plants react to sensory input. Using this as a starting point an algorithm was created building on the reactionary movement certain plants display when touched. The algorithm investigated how input on one unit within a system led to reactions in surrounding units, and thus informed overall movement. This algorithm led to a design of a media-based art piece which reacts to sound input through motion. Muge and Frederico explained that their understanding of algorithms explores the parametric design of behaviour as opposed to geometry. Muge stated that the architect designs the algorithm but not the outcome. Algorithms are capable of learning the process of responding to input, creating unexpected outcomes. This renders the designer’s role to a more passive position. They also stress that these algorithms play out within a closed environment where inputs are controlled.
Muge and Frederico’s 2010 project ‘Emosphera’ breaks open this closed virtual environment, allowing input of uncontrolled external input. This interactive media art piece consists of infrared sensors and acoustic sensors which allows kinetic, visual and sound input from the external environment to feed into the piece’s algorithm. Further input is provided by a game pad that allows users to explore a virtual environment. The algorithm reacts to all sensory input creating differing and unexpected experiences for each user.
When considering the wide ranging body of work produced by [f]FLAT and the emerging nature of methodologies and technologies used for its production it can become difficult to rectify the nature of said work with the current state of architecture as a discipline. I for one found myself asking ‘Is this really architecture?’ and ‘If outcomes are unexpected, what really is an architect’s role?’
…moving forward into the unknown future of computational design, coding and architecture
In regard to the former question, Muge and Frederico propose a thought which somewhat clarifies the nature of [f]FLAT’s work. [f]FLAT aims to explore operation within different and new modalities, creating work and building knowledge beyond the boundaries of current disciplines. Their aim is to accumulate a body of knowledge in emerging technologies that will allow them to practice freely when the architectural discipline eventually catches up with said technologies. Muge provided a clear example early on in the lecture. When exploring parametric geometry in projects during the early 2000s, no dedicated architectural design tool existed. The body of knowledge within the discipline regarding parametric design was low and without an alternative route [f]FLAT used Microsoft Excel to produce parametric geometries. Fast forward to the current day, parametric design is widely practiced within the field and parametric design software, such as Grasshopper, is widely used. With this in mind, Muge and Frederico are possibly better equipped then most architects moving forward into the unknown future of computational design, coding and architecture. It is inevitable that the architectural discipline will begin to engage more with the broad definition of Transarchitecture, we have already seen the first steps take place.
As for my second question, ‘If outcomes are unexpected, what really is an architect’s role?’ This is more a question about the passive or active nature of an architect’s role in the design process. Whether architects will or should take a more passive role as the profession grows to better engage with algorithmic design and coding is a question that has no objective answer and informs a whole other discussion.