Responsive Architecture: Buildings that can Learn Now

Innovative research, development, and technology have transformed the way architects approach building designs. Everything surrounded by humans is in a constant state of flux, with varying dynamism. These spaces are surrounded by constantly changing of forces of nature. The theory of buildings standing straight, while their environment being in a state of continues alteration is now a question in the architectural dictionary.

Responsive architecture calculates environmental conditions via sensors to adapt their form, shape, colour or character responsively. It’s an evolving phase in the architecture industry. The aim is to optimize energy performance with responsive technologies i.e. sensors, controls, and systems. The formed building will also reflect the cultural and technological conditions of the current time. These sensors are employed in the buildings to monitor and control various aspect of the built environment such as humidity, temperature, solar radiation, and recognize patterns in the human activities. An intelligent and responsive technology in a building aids an architect in attaining the ability to shape the building according to its environment.

A Glimpse in the History of Learning Buildings

Charles Eastman, a writer, national lecturer, and reformer wrote: “The ethic of modern design is to take human activities as given, without constraints, and to create and environment which maximally supports them”.

Nicholas Negroponte coined the term “responsive architecture” in the 1960s. During this time, spatial design problems were explored by applying cybernetics to the architecture. He extended the concept of contextual variation and computing and its integration into architecture. Since Negroponte’s contribution, new works have also emerged, but they were not functional. All these works were depended upon the calculating abilities of the computers that were programmable, to the real world and the events that shape it.

The Current Scenario

Architecture aims to build reliable, smart, intelligent, interactive, and responsive buildings that respond well to the environment. With the advent of intelligent homes in the recent years, the industry is developing computerised systems and electronics to adapt the exterior and interior of buildings, that too with the needs of the residents. A building skin can hold such smart devices. The architecture will adapt to changing weather conditions taking account of light, heat, and coolness. A responsive building will acknowledge the forces acting upon it like climate, energies, information, and human touch and will change respectively to the situation. Theoretically, this will be achieved via designing adaptable materials. For example, rods and strings which can bend in response to wind behaving just like a tree. These smart materials will have unique properties and they will react differently on exposure to different environmental stimuli.  They will have the ability to transform their physical properties and shape without requiring any external source of power. They can be very useful in increasing functionality and performance, reducing energy consumption at the same time. Performance of such materials is primarily controlled through computation and automation. The response provided by these smart materials will be real-time, intellectual, multiple-resulted, discrete, and direct.

Hurdles in the Framework

Great architecture responds to a client’s vision with competing forces of budget, time, site, environment, and the path to approvals. Navigating such a demanding project will definitely require a special team. Any approach in producing an agile architecture structure having the ability to change its shape must harvest both architecture and engineering methodologies to ensure robust performance. The primary goal in designing a responsive architecture must meet the spatial requirements. Furthermore, to control responsive methodology, building structure must be placed within an envelope that guarantees maximum safe and minimum rigidities. Such architecture requires architects to program and design electronics, which they normally don’t. This problem will ensure that architectural and engineering practices depend upon each other. It will utilise a diverse range of inputs and produce a wide range of effects.  Architects must be very careful as the interaction of all these elements is highly reactive and responsive.

The Hybrid Model

A simple model can be created for a curated architecture building consisting of three phases. The first phase can be the input from the user. This phase comprises the user’s ability to manipulate the responsiveness throughout the whole building. The second phase deals with the spatial responses used to control internal and external spaces via computation and automation. Lastly, the final phase depends on building, how it behaves and responds to the environmental load.

Forecasting the Future Response

With the dawn of technological advancements, future of responsive architecture is definitely improving. The only focus left is on the energy-intensive systems. Intelligent architects must seek out and connect with resources in need because the life surrounding humans is everlasting and it will adjust according to change. They must be sure before applying any techniques, the high possibilities and repercussions of their work.  The materials sometimes can be unpredictable just like humans, environment, and the climate and materials should behave just like humans want them to work. Such new technologies will drastically change the environment, causing re-articulation of architecture. Architects must be aware of upcoming new technology for the future and they must also ensure that any architecture must harness the smart use of materials that were built with computation. If such technological advances continued, it will be hard to tell the difference between real and alive.