Thermodynamic Materialism

Iñaki Abalos

Air in motion.

“Architecture is the air we breathe, an air laden precisely with that: architecture”. Alejandro de la Sota.

Air has been treated in architecture and its historiography as an element that is recognized, which can only be spoken about metaphorically, poetically or phenomenologically.

Even Le Corbusier decided against publishing, except in the form of a short article, the repeatedly announced text significantly entitled “L’espace indicible”. Space is the big issue in the modern discourse (Giedion’s Space, Time and Architecture), yet it remains in the territory of the subjective and the elusive, rather like the duende of the gypsy flamenco singer or the muse of the Romantic artist.

Science, meanwhile, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, set about deconstructing this void, this emptiness, the Cartesian res extensa, using disciplines that have populated what used to be defined by vacancy with micro- and macroscopic activity. The new approach ushered in by thermodynamics since the nineteenth century is decisive when it comes to reviewing the architectural and landscape conception of this element, converted into a building material in itself. This was assisted by the advent of parametric digital means that serve not only to decipher a nature that is changing in time but also to design strategies to construct artificial ambiences by creating new territories at the scale of the building, public space and the landscape. Air in motion now demands to be studied in its different manifestations, revealing its different descriptions, and to become the object of meticulous analysis to experience its powers, name them and proceed to construct what we have termed a new idea of thermodynamic beauty, which, without renouncing tectonic tradition, completes it, offering new and unsuspected directions to the work of the architect.

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