As I briefly mentioned in an earlier post, I’m interested in finding ways to allow a bit more chaos into our lives. This is because our way of life needs a lot of changing, and yet the status quo is incredibly persistent. We can try to (and should, and are) design our way out of this: think of a better alternative, design the intervention, and try to make the intervention come true.
However, it’s incredibly difficult to imagine the future – it’s always an improved version of what you’ve already seen in the past. And with the stakes so high and the clock’s ticking getting louder by the day, we can’t just rely on our imagination. We need a second track. And that track has to do with chaos.
Chaos is the opposite of design, or at least: almost. Design is the deliberate intervention to improve the human condition, and chaos may intervene without deliberation. But it doesn’t have to aggravate the human condition. Because chaos is full of creative potential, and if we can harness that potential, we have a strong force working alongside our imagination.
Over the past years, on and off, I’ve been gathering examples of art, architecture and design that do not resist natural forces, but openly embrace it. These forces include natural phenomena (such as the weather, but also time), human interaction, animal interaction, random generation, artificial intelligence, and who knows what more. They act like co-authors to the creative process.
Recently, after conversations with my friend and artist Semâ Bekirovic, I’ve started mapping these examples to this quadrant below.
The vertical axis describes whether the involvement of the non-conscious co-author is deliberate (by design) or by accident (never meant to be involved). The horizontal axis describes whether the contribution of the co-author leads to an enhancement of the subject (adds certain qualities to it) or degradation of the subject (it breaks the material down towards an increased entropy).
Some of these involvements result in static works, like the art created by a tree, the wind and Tim Knowles. There are quite a few wonderful examples of those in contemporary art as well as in product design (take these AI-generated rugs, for instance).
But I am more interested in the dynamic works: art pieces, architectural objects, products, websites that continue to change throughout their lives, continuously energized by those external forces at play. They are open ended. Each to their own extent, they hand over some control to chaos – and they really come alive as a result.
I’ll highlight a few.
QO Hotel facade – There a multiple examples of dynamic facades; facades that respond to external influences. But I’ll pick the QO Hotel in Amsterdam for one good reason: they apply this principle not just for reasons of interestingness, but to save energy. Each of the 819 panels can move individually in response to the outdoor climate compared to the desired room temperature. Using an intricate algorithm, it creates the desired indoor climate without the need for additional heating, cooling or ventilation. And the bonus is of course the ever-changing outward appearance of the hotel 🙂
Half a House – When the city of Constitución, Chile, was hit by a massive earthquake, destroying 80% of the city’s buildings were destroyed. Architectural studio Elemental was asked to build a neighborhood of homes for low-income families. But rather than build complete houses, they gave each family half a house. This half contains the very basics, but just enough for a family to get by. And for the other half., residents can take part in building workshops facilitated by Elemental, so they can craft it to their own liking. The result: very affordable solution, and very personalised homes.
Actually, one could easily argue that architecture, by its very nature, is dynamic in the sense that humans inhabit it. They make it their own; apply their personalities to it; adapt it to their needs. Architecture is not finished when it is completed; that’s when it starts.