Wood as a Primary Medium to Eco-Systemic Performance: A Case Study in Systemic Approach to Architectural Performance

Marie Davidová

The present research considers wood as a study material for a wider question on architecture’s environmental[1] interaction. It aims to explore its potential for eco-systemic[2] performances[3] and atmospheres[4] as well as to broaden the discussion on this problem area by accessing the public space and professional practice calls. My project researches such interactions through practical experiments as well as theoretical reflections, including examinations of other scientific, design, artistic and craft disciplines. It honestly discusses the successes as well as the failures and weak points to develop a strong background for eco-systemic collaborative design-research practice.

The methodology Research by Design[5] while full-scale prototyping is covered by the Systems Oriented Design[6] to interpret and develop complex environmental relations. While doing so, this work also claims develop the methodology itself and to generate theory through experimental practice. The fusion of these process based fields led to the ratification of new design field: Systemic Approach to Architectural Performance[7].

Diagram Expressing the fusion of Methodology, Material Science and Full-Scale Prototyping into One Performative Eco-System of Architectural Practice through which the New Design Field is Generated (Davidová 2018)
1 Introduction

This research by design[8] is seeking answers to the question of what is a solid pine wood’s environmental interaction and how it can be used in Performance Oriented Architecture[9] applied in Czech locations. This is looked upon from Systems Oriented Design[10] perspective. By integrating these fields from eco-systemic perspective, the work leads to the ratification of a new design field: Systemic Approach to Architectural Performance. Therefore, the case study demanded larger complexity of investigation as one cannot divide the field into fragments. This is obvious when it comes to discussion on eco-systems. Ulanowitz describes that ‘ecosystems’[11] behave in ways that are very different from the systems described by other sciences, i.e. evolutionary theory, ethology, mechanics, thermodynamics, etc. And that the ability of aggregated mechanical constructs, otherwise known as ‘eco-systems models’, to predict the behaviour of ensemble eco-systems is notoriously poor. (Ulanowicz, 1999). Therefore, he also discusses ‘Ecosystems Phenomenology’[12] (Ulanowicz, 1988). The importance of performance of the whole is also discussed by Gestalt Psychology (Wertheimer, Koffka, Köhler and others)[13]. With the understanding of above mentioned, several full scale prototypes, their production and application in architectural and ’urban design’[14] and eco-systems, design processes and the methodology itself were all interpreted through practice as fused ever evolving biotic as well as abiotic co-design, being the design-research process and the result in the same time.

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[1] ‘Environment is physical and biological surroundings of an organism. The environment covers non-living (abiotic) factors such as temperature, soil, atmosphere and radiation, and also living (biotic) organisms such as plants, microorganisms and animals.’ (Oxford University Press, 2004)

[2] Ecosystem was described by Allen and Roberts as an ecological system inside the system that includes the geophysical part. (T. F. H. Allen & Roberts, 1993)

[3] Leatherbarrow is explaining the performance view on construction: ‘…when the preparations of well-designed construction are seen to be inevitably inadequate, when the finished work is understood to be necessarily incomplete, because the world of which it is part is recognized as a field of forces that will, over time and unpredictably, re-qualify what design and construction had pre-qualified.’ (Leatherbarrow, 2013)

[4] ‘Quality in architecture . . . is to me when a building manages to move me. What on earth is it that moves me? How can I get it into my own work? . . . How do people design things with such a beautiful, natural presence, things that move me every single time. One word for it is Atmosphere.’ (Zumthor, 2006)

[5] ‘Research by Design is any kind of inquiry in which design is a substantial part of the research process. In research by design, the architectural design process forms a pathway through which new insights, knowledge, practices or products come into being. Research by design generates critical inquiry through design work that may include realized projects, proposals, possible realities or alternatives. Research by design produces forms of output and discourse proper to disciplinary practice, verbal and non-verbal that make it discussable, accessible and useful to peers and others. Research by design is validated through peer review by panels of experts who collectively cover the range of disciplinary competencies addressed by the work.’ (ResEAAErch, 2017)

[6] Systems Oriented Design: ‘an approach to learn how to better cope with very complex issues as designers. The approach is influenced and inspired by modern systems thinking and systems practice and inspired by generative diagramming. Design practice, systems thinking, systems practice, design thinking, information visualisation, diagramming, GIGA-mapping, research by design, research through design, design for complexity, sustainability.’ (Sevaldson, 2013b)

[7] The notion of Systemic Approach to Architectural Performance was first expressed by me in 2016 as a title for collaborative project among me, Birger Sevaldson, Michael Hensel and Miloš Florián that was fusing Performance Oriented Architecture and Systems Oriented Design. This project was supported by EEA and Norway Grants as a bilateral partnership program between the Faculty of Art and Architecture at the Technical University of Liberec and the Oslo School of Architecture and Design (Davidová, 2016c, 2016d). The project’s continuation among the same design - researchers participants for the bilateral partnership between the CTU in Prague and the Oslo School of Architecture and Design has been recently submitted for funding to the same donor.

[8] For the reason, that the work is ‘research by design’ authored or co-authored by me from the position of project leader, there is a large auto-referencing appearance. This necessity is also supported by the fact, that there is no similar research in the location. As the work is local-specific and there is no other author in the field and location, auto-referencing was unavoidable.

[9] ‘Performance-oriented Architecture, a subset of Performance-oriented Design, that engages the key concepts 'non-discrete architectures' and 'non-anthropocentric architectures'. The former seeks for a higher level integration of architecture and environment that are locally specific and intensely embedded in their setting. The latter aims for an integration of ecology and urban ecology considerations on the scale of architecture.’ (Hensel, 2015b)

[10] Systems Oriented Design: ‘The designerly way to work with systems: The main mission of Systems Oriented Design is to build the designers own interpretation and implementation of systems thinking so that systems thinking can fully benefit from design thinking and practice and so that design thinking and practice can fully benefit from systems thinking.’ (Sevaldson, 2013c)

[11] ‘By ecosystem we mean a view that explicitly includes the geophysical part of an ecological system inside the system.’ (T. F. H. Allen & Roberts, 1993)

[12] Ecosystems Phenomenology is contrasting analytical processes that are dissecting that which is whole, probing that which is small, and looking for causes in component parts (Ulanowicz, 1988).

[13] Wertheimer, Koffka, Köhler did not claim that the whole is more than the sum of its parts but that objects and relations are experienced differently than collection of sensations, parts or pieces (Ash, 1998).

[14] ‘Urban design is about making connections between people and places, movement and urban form, nature and the built fabric. Urban design draws together the many strands of place-making, environmental stewardship, social equity and economic viability into the creation of places with distinct beauty and identity.’ (UrbanDesign.org, 2017)

[15] Hemmersam and Morrison reject the modernist ‘result of abstract utopian ideas’ and propose ‘moving beyond the reductivism’ through ‘methodology involving transect walks, with the purpose of mapping the peculiarities of cultural landscapes…. [this] includes the ephemeral and emergent, but also digital, dimensions of urban landscapes, and results in a complex reflexive method of critically reading and writing, of moving and locating, of seeing and picturing place mapping.’ (Hemmersam & Morrison, 2016) This work is addressed to Arctic climatic location. Therefore, it is very relevant for this thesis, as it is discussing the expected weather extremes in discussed location in reference to its adaptation.

[16] ‘A Gigamap is characterized by: • Designerly construction of a rich picture of a real life situation • Mixing information types and kinds e.g. images, graphics, texts, and other media • Mixing sources of information • Myriadic quality: including large amounts of information • Crossing scales, from large scale to small scale (microscope,  telescope, wide angle views) • Combining and relating categorically different entities • Covering wide fields • Digging into details • Combining, interpolating and criticizing systems models • Boundary construction, critique, and adjustment.’ (Sevaldson, 2012a)

[17] ‘Mashrabīyas’ are wooden oriental screens moderating, among others, humidity micro-climatic conditions exchange across interior and exterior (Fathy, 1986). These can be appearing in different layers, either as a permeable envelope in direct contact with the exterior, or as a second layer of enclosable ‘kishks’ (Fakouch et al., 2004).

[18] The authors referred in this paragraph are founders and key figures within the research fields of this thesis. For this reason, they are also widely quoted throughout the text.

[19] Collaborative Collective is a collective of architects, designers and friends, first conceived in 2008 as an open platform for sharing ideas and pursuing personal agendas. After this first formation broke up, the team without its establishing founder got rise to different platform called EDIT!. This platform also, deservedly, refers to the former Collaborative Collective’s work. In 2011 Krištof Hanzlík, the former founder of the previous platform, and me ratified a design-research network practice with this name under the agreement of the former platform members. This network already started with its own physical office, while outsourcing external transdisciplinary collaborators. In 2012, me, Krištof Hanzlík and Martin Gaberle founded and registered an NGO with the same title as a civic association for science, research and development within the architectural field.

[20] Transdisciplinarity, as opposed to Interdisciplinarity refers to equality of the involved disciplines. There is no more master architect within an ‘architectural project’. While practicing transdisciplinary design-research, all involved agents participate through their agendas and thus also gain equal outcomes.

[21] Transformation: ‘1. the act or process of transforming. 2. the state of being transformed; 3. change in form, appearance, nature, or character; 4. Theatre: a seemingly miraculous change in the appearance of scenery or actors in view of the audience; 5. Logic: Also called transform. one of a set of algebraic formulas used to express the relations between elements, sets, etc., that form parts of a given system; 6. Mathematics: the act, process, or result of transforming or mapping. function (def 4a); 7. Linguistics:  transformational rule. the process by which deep structures are converted into surface structures using transformational rules; 8. Genetics: the transfer of genetic material from one cell to another resulting in a genetic change in the recipient cell; 9. a wig or hairpiece for a woman.’ (Dictionary.com, 2017)

[22] ‘This article introduces and discusses a series of alternative and interrelated concepts and approaches regarding questions of the sustainability of the built environment and architectural design. The need for this discussion arises from the realization that the majority of current approaches to questions of sustainability in architectural design tend to considerably stifle complexity in approach, problem analysis and definition. This development is characterized by isolated and partial aspects of environmental problems, instead of a more holistic systems approach, often present in the approaches of other disciplines or interdisciplinary efforts. The shortage of alternative approaches in architectural design requires a critical rethinking of the question of sustainability of the built environment and its relation to other domains in and outside the anthroposphere. To address this problem is the goal of this article. In doing so, it introduces and discusses concepts and approaches that are rooted in a systems approach and aims for more complex problem definitions, while taking longer-term perspectives into consideration. This is done from a performance-oriented architecture perspective, which operates on the dynamic interactions between local ecosystems (including humans), environment and the spatial? material organization complex of architecture.’ (Hensel, 2012d)

[23] ‘The Rich Design Research Space is an inclusive methodological framework and scaffold for research-by-design. The Rich Design Research Space especially addresses the issue of richness in design processes and design-led research.’ (Sevaldson, 2012b)

[24] ‘Service design as a practice generally results in the design of systems and processes aimed at providing a holistic service to the user. This cross-disciplinary practice combines numerous skills in design, management and process engineering. Services have existed and have been organised in various forms since time immemorial. However, consciously designed services that incorporate new business models are empathetic to user needs and attempt to create new socio-economic value in society. Service design is essential in a knowledge driven economy.’ (Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, 2008; Stickdorn & Schneider, 2011

[25] The Principle of Adaptation: For continued system cohesion, the mean rate of system adaptation must equal to or exceed the mean rate of change of environment (Hitchins, 1992).

[26] Transformation: ‘1. the act or process of transforming. 2. the state of being transformed; 3. change in form, appearance, nature, or character; 4. Theatre: a seemingly miraculous change in the appearance of scenery or actors in view of the audience; 5. Logic: Also called transform. one of a set of algebraic formulas used to express the relations between elements, sets, etc., that form parts of a given system; 6. Mathematics: the act, process, or result of transforming or mapping. function (def 4a); 7. Linguistics:  transformational rule. the process by which deep structures are converted into surface structures using transformational rules; 8. Genetics: the transfer of genetic material from one cell to another resulting in a genetic change in the recipient cell; 9. a wig or hairpiece for a woman.’ (Dictionary.com, 2017)

[27] ‘This word is commonly used to refer to a sudden overthrow of the status quo and its replacement by an entirely different state of affairs. That the word is also used for the turning of a wheel conveys this sense of social arrangements being turned upside-down. Many believe in the necessity of revolution for a fundamental reformation of society. The argument is that existing political and social institutions must be swept away if better ones are to emerge. Democratic SOCIALISTS and the reformist left prefer the idea of change achieved gradually by an incremental transformation of society, mirrored by changes in individual consciousness and behaviour. Finally, a revolution may be conceived not as a deliberate strategy so much as the emergent effect of other social, political and economic changes, as in the industrial revolution.’ (Parker & Fournier, 2007)

The above text is an excerpt from this year's defended PhD thesis: ‘Wood as a Primary Medium to Eco-Systemic Performance: A Case Study in Systemic Approach to Architectural Performance’ (Davidová, 2017). Czech Technical University in Prague.