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Experimental Architecture: Designing the Unknown

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Rachel Armstrong


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This book outlines a theory and practice of Experimental Architecture that is particular to third millennial challenges. It responds to the need for alternative futures than the trajectories predicted by Anthropocene narratives, which anticipate and environmental collapse, soaring populations and rising average global temperatures – all of which will severely affect our cities. Through developing design-led research practices that are expressed as drawings, models, prototypes and installations, the portfolio of possibilities for the architectural profession may be redefined. Third millennial Experimental Architecture moves beyond the production of “paper architecture” of Peter Cook and Lebbeus Woods and moves into various laboratory settings that include the modern scientific laboratory, field studies and site-specific work. It’s outputs are prototypes, models and installations that explore how we dwell upon the planet beyond industrial mores and practices to develop disruptive modes of inquiry, which may further sustain and enrich our knowledge of an ecologically stressed planet. Such research methods imply a need for new evaluative criteria that do not aim for complete solutions or perfection, but speak to established notions of research quality while respecting the specific characteristics of each disciplinary contribution. Such a daunting ambition to bring together so many different aspects of inhabiting and experiencing spaces is consistent with understanding how to accept risk and deal with uncertainty as integral to the choreography of our living space and part of the responsibility of socialized life. Experimental Architecture’s explorations are therefore predicated on shifting away from the traditional view of architecture as a static, form-giving subject, to protocols for choreographing space through “worlding”, which invites alternative modes of inhabitation and being-in-the-world. Knowledge fields are developed through storytelling as transdisciplinary synthesis, which becomes key not only to developing the scope of research itself, but also in its capacity to link and connect forms of expertise previously kept apart. Characteristically, experiments speak to transformative materialities that conjure invisible realms, embrace change, provoke uncertainty, take risks, create hybrids and are formed from hypercomplex materials like fur, soil and felt. They also engage with the integration of research methods across disciplines, artefacts, performances, and encounters that for example, explore the possibilities within wet environments and potential applications for soft structures that are capable of dynamically responding to their surroundings. In keeping with Experimental Architecture’s visionary agenda of establishing alternative modes of living that disrupt tyrannical systems of order within urban spaces, research methods share more in common with surrealism than they do with industrial machines – like Dalí’s soft clocks, hairy materials, liquid environments and quantum phenomena. They also examine the participatory status of the body in these spaces, as an active (non-mechanical) agent that evaluates architectural choreographies and shapes site-specific modes of inhabitation. Experimental Architecture therefore becomes an expression of design through performance, which resists modern simplifications, abstractions and its machine “logic” by interrogating the experience of inhabitation of living spaces and the notion of what constitutes a body. This book is written in two parts – Part A and Part B, which are in dialogue with each other. Part A is authored by the editor and sets the context for a practice-led approach to architectural research through the lens of Experimental Architecture. It aims to distil the concepts, materials, methods, technical apparatuses, prototypes and installations that embody a 3rd millennial research practice for the choreography of space. Part B is an edited series of invited expert essays. These are all based on the same brief, yet differently exemplify the nature of architectural experiment both in form and content according to the practitioner’s unique skills and perspectives. Contributions from architects and a broad range of disciplines (information technology, mathematics, poetry, graphic design, scenography, bacteriology, marine applied science, robotics) generate publishable prototypes that embody original cutting-edge architectural concepts in the form of texts, ideas, quotes, themes, poetic expressions, equations, narratives and stories. Such condensations of thought and practice become examples of how dissonant matter, ideas and values may be combined so that we may invent radical alternative architectural futures and open up new spaces for a diverse range of 3rd millennial architectural practices.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Armstrong R

Publication type: Authored Book

Publication status: Published

Edition: 1st

Year: 2020

Number of Pages: 206

Print publication date: 25/06/2019

Online publication date: 11/06/2019

Acceptance date: 02/04/2017

Publisher: Routledge

Place Published: Abingdon


Notes: The Living Architecture project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement no. 686585.

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9781138575240