Interactive architecture I

Posted: March 6, 2007 in creativity
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Interactive architecture projects by Marek Walczak and Martin Wattenberg

The following four posts just scratches the surface of what interactive architecture is all about; they lay no claim to providing a comprehensive overview on the subject, especially since I am not an expert in this field. Instead they are the result of a quiet fascination I always had for modern architecture, and the surprise and intrigue when stumbling upon a blog by the name of ‘interactivearchitecture.org’. That site is set up set up by Ruairi Glynn, primarily it seems as a research platform to support the ongoing work of the Interactive Architecture Workshop at Bartlett School of Architecture. After looking in particular at the interview with Ruairi Glynn by HMC MediaLab I thought it might be useful to clarify the concept of interactive architecture for myself and to keep a record of those thought processes and bits of research involved.

A seemingly a not acknowledged enough forerunner of interactive architecture is the well-known British architect Cedric Price, who was the first person to see the potential in interactivity combining with reconfigurable architecture. His 1960s ‘Fun Palace’ was an enormous flexible environment for infinite possible events to occur in. Fun Palace was based on a constantly varying design for a new form of leisure center. Aesthetically it looks like a factory but was designed for the public to play around and engage with the architecture. It was an improvisational architecture in which common citizens could entertain and educate themselves by assembling their own environments using cranes and prefabricated modules. “Choose what you want to do – or watch someone else doing it. Learn how to handle tools, paint, babies, machinery, or just listen to your favourite tune. Dance, talk or be lifted up to where you can see how other people make things work. Sit out over space with a drink and tune in to what’s happening elsewhere in the city. Try starting a riot or beginning a painting – or just lie back and stare at the sky” (Cedric Price on Fun Palace) – how inspiring.

He was light years ahead of his time with his integrated concepts of technological interchangeability, social participation and improvisation, which were innovative and egalitarian alternatives to traditional leisure and education architecture. He was also the first to experiment with buildings having their own artificial intelligence and emotional states, including how these would influence reconfigurable architecture. At the same time, these projects also suggested new models of housing, industrial and architectural production for post-industrial society. Due to the power of his vision, Cedric Price’s work has a continuing effect, for example influencing that of contemporary architects from Richard Rogers and Rem Koolhaas to Rachel Whiteread; it certainly inspired Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano’s early 1970s project, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (see the ‘Centre Pompidou – 30 Years’ post on this blog).


Using an unenclosed steel structure, fully serviced by travelling gantry cranes the building comprised a ‘kit of parts’: pre-fabricated walls, platforms, floors, stairs, and ceiling modules that could be moved and assembled by the cranes. Virtually every part of the structure was variable. Its form and structure, resembling a large shipyard in which enclosures such as theatres, cinemas, restaurants, workshops, rally areas, can be assembled, moved, re-arranged and scrapped continuously, promised Price.

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