Log 36: ROBOLOG
Guest Edited by Greg Lynn
Submission Deadline: October 5, 2015
A couple years ago I was driving in California and looked over to see a Toyota Prius, with a roof-mounted sensor network and a Google logo, driving with a passenger in the driver’s seat. It crossed my mind that if a car could navigate a freeway perhaps buildings could do a little more. If my car is already a robot, why isn’t my studio?
In the 1990s it was countercultural when an architecture student would state, “I don’t want to produce drawings and models in a corporate firm. I want to be a maker.” Today we are surrounded by “makers.” Digital technology and digital connectedness have provoked two related cultural responses: a reactionary return to artisanal crafts and an appropriation of industrial processes. From home pickling, canning, curing, and brewing to domestic 3-D printing, things are being made both with and against digital technology. There was one person in the field of architecture in the 1990s combining these compartmentalized activities, and he is both a maker and a thinker. To understand the 20-year-old fixation with digital “fabrication” in architecture, one need only look to Bernard Cache. Cache saw digital technology as the instrument to translate the architect’s geometric expertise into craft and therefore to empower architects through their command of a legion of robotic carpenters. Primitive huts fabricated by robots has been the dominant form of architectural innovation ever since. With the will to digital control came a return to essential theories of tectonics and design that one can observe today in the very thoughtful and rigorous theories of parametricism offered by Patrik Schumacher and Mario Carpo. Yet the sheen of fabrication is quickly tarnishing with its wholesale adoption by corporate practices. For example, derivatives of Cache’s panels can be seen inside museum galleries, on hotel facades, and in steakhouse interiors and elevator lobbies. If the caste of robots is as carpenters, welders, and masons, then some of the greatest minds in architecture can continue to invent new more complicated yet affordable things for them to make. The project of digital fabrication may not be complete, but it now belongs to the architectural mainstream.
Meanwhile, the rest of humanity looks to self-driving cars, drones, and the “internet of everything.” Companies involved in digital data, like Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Trimble, are bringing robots into the built environment to animate it. Innovations in environmental intelligence and dynamics are being developed in Silicon Valley as an extension of and expansion beyond the screen. Smart environments are imagined by architects with regularity, but the profession’s infatuation with instruments of construction often eclipses an engagement with the intelligence and behavior of animate buildings. Log
will look at the relevance of robotics to architecture, with one exclusion: using robots to make things.
There is a legacy of architecture conceived as giant robot. Beginning with the New York World’s Fairs, the Festival of Britain, and Expo ’70 in Osaka, architects as diverse as Norman Bel Geddes, Arata Isozaki, Cedric Price, Archigram, and Charles and Ray Eames were conceiving and sometimes realizing massive robotic structures. During the 1980s there were other architects working with technologists and artists in Northern Europe and North America who rejected the digital turn toward making in favor of making environments more dynamic, intelligent, and interactive. TED conferences, the MIT Media Lab, Ars Electronica, the Netherlands Media Art Institute (NIMk), V2_Institute for Unstable Media, and the Banff Centre were all hubs for architects searching for new spaces, environments, and experiences related to the transformation of buildings into giant robots. The legacy of this moment can be seen in a few cases such as the theatrical work of Mark Fisher’s studio and selected recent projects by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, David Rockwell Group, and OMA that integrate large-scale robotics into buildings to introduce dynamism and interactivity. In the tragic fashion of architecture, ideas were generated in the field and then abandoned, only later to become the most important and profitable topic in the world. ROBOLOG
will reexamine the concepts, technologies, and projects imagined by architects to connect robotics with physical environments. It aims to reconnect the discipline with the intelligent environments, like the autonomous car, that are being realized today.
welcomes any and all proposals by innovative thinkers regarding the integration of digital technology into architecture, with one exception: makers need not apply.
– Greg Lynn