[bracket] | Lola Sheppard

Architecture has recently renewed its fascination with the notion of environment, as a dynamic and an atmospherically tangible space of design. This has been driven by a number of trajectories and positions within the discipline. On the one hand, the ever-expanding discourse on sustainability has brought debates of technology-driven versus passive means of control to the fore. On the other hand, architecture has embraced responsive design anew, testing the possibility of environments that contain instruments for sensing and responding to atmospheric conditions and human occupants. Simultaneously, responsive design has sought out biological and ecological models, embracing the notion of architecture an as organism able to physically react to changing interior and exterior environmental conditions.


Mechanical ballet: ALMA’s sixty-six antennas rotate in a synchronic movement.

Reacting to the strictures of modernism, interest in ideas of environment and “soft” architecture served as a provocation to conventional models of architecture, and was part of a design counter-culture, foregrounded in architectural discourse in the 1960s through to two trajectories. Architects Buckminster Fuller and Francois Dallegret, and theorist Reyner Banham, as well as several Viennese and British architects[1], were advocating for architecture to reduce—if not shed entirely—the envelope of architecture, in favor of more technological means of producing controlled environments. In parallel, architects were speculating on the possibility of environments driven by informational feedback mechanisms rather than atmospherics. Recent renewed interest in the writings and work of this constellation of thinkers has influenced an evolving set of discussions and design provocations, centered around the consideration of environment and its external linkages.

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[1] Projects such as Hans Hollein’s Mobile Office (1969); Coop Himmelb(l)au’s Restless Sphere (1971); Haus-Rucker-Co’s Oase No. 7 (1972), and in the UK, works such as Archigram’s Suitaloon were later projects that continued, in part, the legacy of Banham and Dallegret’s Environment Bubble.
[2] Reyner Banham, “A Home Is Not A House,” Art in America Number Two (April, 1965): 75.
[3] Amy Kulper, “Ecology without the Oikos: Banham, Dallegret and the Morphological Context of Environmental Architecture,” Field Journal, vol.4 (1) (January 2011): 72.
[4] Ibid., 84.
[5] Buckminster Fuller. See St. Louis Dispatch, Sept 26, 1965 and Scientific American, Jan/Feb. 1970.
[6] Meredith Miller, “Spheres, Domes, Limits and Interfaces: The Transgressive Architecture of Biosphere 2,” ACSA Annual Conference Proceedings (2011): 102-110.
[7] Felicity D. Scott, Architecture or Techno-utopia: Politics after Modernism (Cambridge: 2007): 215.
[8] Ibid., 213.
[9] Peter Sloterdijk, Terror from the Air (Lost Angeles: Semiotext: 2009), 18.
[10] Ibid., 20.
[11] “Oxford Dictionary,” http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/environment
Last accessed August 15, 2014. [12] Jakob von Uexküll, A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans with A Theory of Meaning, trans. Joseph D. O’Neil (Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2010), xx.
[13] Ibid., 214.
[14] Ibid., 258.
[15] Ibid., 135.
[16] Kristina Hill, “Shifting Sites,” in Site Matters: Design Concepts, Histories, and Strategies, edited by Andrea Kahn and Carol J. Burns (New York: Routledge, 2005), 143.
[17] Ibid., 131.
[18] Schonewald-Cox and Bayless define the generated or gradient edge as follows: “The generated edge is distinct in that its location and characteristics develop in response to the condition and effectiveness of the first filter. This edge, generated by protection, also affects protection. It includes ecologic, geologic, climatic, economic, and demographic gradients, such as varying land-use practices.”
Christine M. Schonewald-Cox, “The Boundary Model: A geographical Analysis of Desing and Conservation of Nature Reserves,” BioScience, Vol. 38, No. 7, Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (July/August 1988) Visit web.Accessed: 08/10/2014 14:47
[19] See Gilles Clement’s essay within Meaning in Landscape Architecture and Gardens, ed. Marc Trieb (Routledge: London, 2011)
[20] See Gilles Clément, Philippe Rahm and Giovanna Borasi, Environ(ne)ment, Manières d’agir pour demain / Approaches for Tomorrow (CCA, Skira Édition : 2007).
[21] See Mohsen Mostafavi and David Leatherbarrow, On Weathering: The Life of Buildings in Time (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993)
[22] See Reyner Banham’s comparison of different ways of demarcating comfort and environment: the construction of an envelope and the building of a campfire; the former requiring more effort and resources; the latter risking the draining of resources. The campfire, Banham argues creates concentric zones of heat (and comfort) defining different zones of activities, but which risk being disturbed by external forces such as wind, smoke, and so forth. Banham, Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment, 20.
[23] See Philippe Rahm’s discussion of architecture’s shifts from a focus on form to performance and interior environment. Philippe Rahm,“Form and Function Follow Climate,” Department of Architecture ETH Zurich. Bauten / Bauen – Architekturlabor schweiz: Interview 3: 89. archithese/Rahm.pdf
[24] See the work of contemporary practices such as Cero9 Amid, Weathers, Ants in the Prairie, Francois Roche, the Living, and the writings of theorist David Gissen.
[25] Banham, “A Home Is Not A House,” 76.