The synthetic is often viewed with scepticism and mistrust, however we are entering an age where the ‘man made’ and the naturally occurring are perceived as one. From artificial environments as extension of our bodies, to buildings storing and processing private and public information and operating as self-sufficient entities connected to their users, the emerging city and the modern metropolis stands at the forefront of experimentation and sophisticated adaptation.
The research on Cyber-prosthetic architecture aims exactly at that: bridging and merging arts, technology and industry, to promote creative experimentation in design so as to expand and generate new innovative solutions. Through investigations of both social, urban and architectural issues, by means of a new paradigm, we gain the ability to initially identify seemingly redundant buildings and subsequently redefine them as renewed components of a larger urban system, as ‘tools’ that have the potential to generate social, political and urban change.
However it is important to take a step back and trace this development so as to identify a clear line of research and development.
The Human Model
The human model, historically the measure of our civic environment, has undergone a radical transformation, where reality and virtual worlds meld to create environments stripped of traditional boundaries and constraints. Contemporary information and communication technologies exteriorize and attempt to duplicate electronically the interior of the human body. This inevitably introduces the process that Deleuze and Guattari call ‘becoming machine’ which is linked to the project of liberating from the human embodiment, to become bodies without organs. This happens through various levels of prostheses from simple minimal interfaces to almost complete replacement of the brain with cybernetic parts or a fully prosthetic body enabling a person to become a cyborg - advancements that the movie industry has shown us in features like 'Ghost in the Shell' or the alien-like figures of H. R. Giger.
However what we are interested in is more the dialogue and integration of set machines within the body. The human body has an innate ability to adapt and respond to change. Sophisticated technologies that provide the body with a replacement limb, a device to improve restricted mobility or to address psychological impediments provide us with clues to addressing physical dysfunctions in the built environment
To go beyond the fictional it is important to identify the initial European design interest in pneumatics and transience, since they are seminal in this kind of research and elaboration. From the Flyhead Helmet or the Ballon für Zwei, 1967 or the Oase No. 7 (1972), in Kassel by Haus-Rucker-Co, these all aimed to explore the inner world, and to improve the psychological capacity, the so called Mind Expanding Programme. Also Coop Himmelblau showed an interest in prosthetics and pneumatics from the early works of the house with wings and the house with flying roof, to exalting the personal, as in the 1971 'Restless Sphere' which they walked around in Basel, preferring sensation to sensibility and tension to compression. All these experiments aimed to open the door to altered and expanded perceptions of the body.
As Deleuze and Guattari enlighten us: thinking is about the invention of new concepts and new productive ethical relations. Just as we do not know what prosthetic bodies would be able to do, we cannot even begin guessing what post-prosthetic embodied brains will actually be able to think up. Mark Wigley in turn points out in ‘'Prosthetic Theory: the Disciplining of Architecture', '..now it is more the relationship between body and building and the building itself becomes a kind of ornament worn by the occupant, and since structural it restructures the body that wears it'. This is a premise for the emerging city and its potentially ‘mecha’ buildings.
The Emerging City
The notion of a physical or conceptual ‘city wall’ has all but disappeared with the arrival of remote relationships, transactions and cross cultural collaborations. The evolution of the existing city now customised by collaborations, new hybrid uses, responsive ‘smart’ structures and fabrication techniques becomes a new animal where neglected or abandoned structures are to be configured as hybrid platforms or cybernetic organisms, re-engineered ‘tools’ that transform the city.
Their interest lay more in raising questions on the way humans lived in cities, and through their questioning and experimentation they presented a radical peek into a possible — if improbable — future.
An architectural appraisal of individual structures will confirm the viability of integrating robotics systems so that they retain their original identity, and the ability to interact between the past and the present. This cyber-prosthetic architecture, a new neuro-architectural interface, has the potential to become the true, if artificial, heart of our environment.
Just like in cyborgs, the process of joining body and machine, in our case building and machines, is not about the artefact itself but more importantly how this prosthetic technology is experienced by the building and the occupant. It can therefore be of secondary importance how a particular prosthesis is formed, or what it looks like since the material reality and society are as a result being reconceived. In our case, by ‘upgrading’ the architectural building body, we do not refer to its appearance, neither to the creation of an exoskeleton, nor a prosthetic structure, but to simply upgrade the building performance. What we seek to do, is to frame an entirely new experience of perceiving and relating to the architectural building/ city/ world, with the participation of our brain, muscles, and senses.
Just like in Lebbeus Woods’ Sarajevo project where “…My answer was that architecture, as a social and primarily constructive act, could heal the wounds, by creating entirely new types of space in the city. These would be what I had called ‘freespaces,’ spaces without predetermined programs of use, but whose strong forms demanded the invention of new programs corresponding to the new, post-war conditions.”
The place of the individual, in a world with an ever increasing demand for urban development and a civic structure / physical environment evolving exponentially, has been challenged. It is now the role of the architect as a public intellectual to provide new opportunities to explore utopian worlds beyond the traditional boundaries of the city and the profession itself.
The study of experimental and virtual environments underpins the program with particular emphasis on conceptual thinking. Technological applications in architectural design and urbanism are explored through workshops and seminars. The studio will face cultural, political and social interrogation in relation to technology with a focus on the body so as to challenge once again the boundaries of innovation and redefine architecture through a trans-disciplinary collaborative approach.
These ideas underpin the proposal for an imagined future utopian city with ‘cyber-prosthetic architecture’. A city where its fabric adapts and responds to a new civic environment and where Colin Rowe’s ‘Collage City’ and the imaginative drawings of ‘Roma Interrotta’ find common ground. One that also creates a sustainable design methodology for the existing city, and a viable future.