An Atmospheric Architecture

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Evolution Through Cognitive Shifts In Perception

In order for architecture to evolve architects must consciously recognize that the medium of our predecessors no longer exists in the same context in which it once has.  Information systems have altered every creative medium through its implementation in the design process yielding a change in the perception of how we evaluate a designed object, the performance of the object, as well as the potentials of what the object could or should be.  Many factors contribute to a mediums ability to be translated into organized sets of information; and with this it may be said that the fields of music and photography have greatly exceeded architecture’s abilities to adapt to an ‘informed’ medium.  While it may easily be argued that music and photography have reached their moment of cognition, it must be noted that they have excelled due to the availability of technology’s which have aided this transition as well as their mediums abilities to be represented through information.  This is not to say that architecture is not capable of yielding such a transition, but as architects we must first acknowledge that a change has occurred within the medium and that this change may involve reinterpreting the very definition of what it means to be an architect.  Through the examination of technology’s role in the fields of music and photography, an understanding may be reached as to how architecture may also evaluate its own creative medium in order to instantiate progress within the field of architecture.  Each creative field may be analyzed through an analytical feedback loop which Alan P. Merriam derived in order to understand technologies various roles in music.  The model is divided into three segments: the conceptualization of an object, the behavior in relation to an object, and the object itself.  Technological advancements may occur specifically within any of these three categories, however the result is typically echoed throughout the model and the separate technological systems within each segment.  The reverberation of these affects may carry more quickly in the fields of music and photography due to their advanced rate of consumption, therefore they provide an ideal model from which to observe the possibilities of progress in architecture.  Consumption generates a greater need to instantiate change, and due to architectures relative ‘permanence’ and sparse consumption it may be most beneficial to observe these other creative fields which regularly produce opportunities for progress in order to gain a fuller understanding of some of the changes which may occur through the implementation of information systems within an architectural medium.

Architects  must first realize that the architectural profession has recently fallen into the same trap that musicians revealed over one hundred years ago, making music an ideal example from which architecture may model its own advancements.  As new modes of production emerge, designers tend to rely on technologies as means of production rather than utilizing their abilities as a mode of production.  For nearly one hundred years after the invention of recorded sound, recordings were merely utilized as a means for the recreation of sound without the presence of a musician.  This took various forms, initially with the invention of the gramophone and later through the advent of the radio frequency broadcast.  The intentions of these systems were simple: make music available to the largest audience available.  The radio was very successful at such a task due to its abilities to transmit sound as information rather than a physical object, however the initial production of a physical recording is something which radically altered the perception of music itself.  Music was once only producible with the presence of an instrument and a musician who had a thorough understanding of how the instrument works as well as a knowledge of musical structuring and composition.  The invention of the gramophone created a shift in which music was now producible simply with a tool designed for listening.  Initially, this shift was only registered on a productive level through the incorporation of the recording process into the performance.  Musicians would go to a recording studio where they would perform their music as if on a stage at a concert, each member of the band participating at the same time.  The utilization of this change in process was achieved due to the larger audiences which a recorded song could reach rather than the musicians themselves, therefore musicians viewed recording as a means of production.  For nearly one hundred years after the invention of the gramophone this remained the case for musicians.  It was not until the late fifties and early sixties that recording had been viewed by artists and musicians alike as not simply a means of production but a mode of production.  The Fluxus movement instantiated some of these changes through using both the recording process as well as the physical recording of sound itself to create music.  This was achieved through a variety of ‘experimental’ processes, however it may be noted that many of the ideas generated revolve around the use of recording ‘noise’ in order to generate a composition of ‘sounds.’  Prior to the recording of sound, the labor required to organize physical noise in real time was much too intense to gratify the end product, however recorded noises are much more readily adapted, edited, and choreographed in order to create structure, composition, and hierarchy, the fundamental elements of music.  Other forms of experimentation took place within the physicality of recorded tape itself through simultaneous repetition of two tapes with the same recording at slightly different lengths.  The effect this creates is a sound which is at first synced, but the two tapes slowly fade into an ‘echoing’ effect, and eventually out of sync with the original recording entirely.  These experiments in music are retrospectively observed as gimmicks and somewhat of ‘one liners,’ however their relevance in the field of music is undeniable.

The abilities a recording provides a musician is something which redefines the nature of a musician, for the production of sound has undertook an unprecedented change.  The tools invented and utilized in reproducing the sounds of instruments have become more than just a tool for reproduction, but an instrument for the creation and composition of sound in itself.  Although many people are not a part of the ‘art culture,’ the shift in perception generated by the Fluxus movement was reverberated to the mass public by many popular musicians.  A large scale push to explore the boundaries of sound production within the recording studio was manifested by bands such as the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and the Velvet Underground through the implementation and imitation of the Fluxus techniques in sound production.  Rock musicians were now not limited to the handful of musicians and instruments within their band, but free to experiment with quartets, octets, and in some cases entire orchestras.  In addition to the abilities to ‘edit in’ a large variety of instruments, musicians began to experiment with the filtering and adaptation of the recording itself.  The alteration of a recorded sound provided many new sounds from which artists could choose, ranging from the filtering of a sound, removal of the ‘attack’ of the sound, as well as playing the sound backwards.  In addition to recording, the electronic instruments themselves lent musicians further possibilities for live alterations to sound.  Largely credited with popularizing many of the guitar effects in use today, Jimi Hendrix expanded the instrument of the guitar itself into something which was previously unconceivable to guitar players of the past through altering the very performance of the instrument.  As these various methods of production afford new results, the hierarchy from which we compose these elements must also be reevaluated, and the musician must continue the learning new relationships emerging in his craft.

As the notion of the recorded sound as the instrument progressed, an interface became necessary for the control and manipulation of these recordings.  The piano keyboard was implemented as the source for this interface due to its linear construction of actuators which resemble the numeric relations of the tones themselves.  Early synthesizers utilized physical recordings of sounds themselves which would be recalled upon actuation of a key.  These machines could be quite laborious to construct, and often times extremely expensive to purchase.  As digital technologies replaced the storage and recording of sampled sounds, synthesizers became more regularized instruments implemented into the production of music.  Initially this appears to be simply another step in the evolution of instruments, however the synthesizer is not a typical instrument for the synthesizer completes the ideology of Western culture through the separation of body and mind.  With the sounds of nearly every instrument incorporated into a single interface, the demands of the technical skills and knowledge about producing the sound becomes less important and a greater emphasis is placed on the knowledge of the composition of sound.  The result of this final conceptual division of body and mind reevaluates what it means to be a ‘successful’ musician, for if one is superior in the selection and editing of sounds they can still be successful without the technical means for producing such sounds.  In this way, music becomes more like the perspective generated within a recording studio, the perspective of the producer.  With this it may be said that the invention of the synthesizer was intended to be implemented as a musical technology (the technology of instruments and recording devices themselves) and grew to alter the technology of music (ideological effects of music) as well as the social technologies required to create music.  Paul Theberge makes a comparison in his book “Any Sound You Can Imagine” between the musical productions involved with television programs produced in the seventies and the musical productions of modern television programs.  In this example entire orchestras are required to produce the music for a single television broadcast.  This process involves the composition of sound by a composer, a production of the representation of sound through written musical annotation, the distribution of annotations to the musicians, the technical process of learning how to play the piece, and finally the coordination of all of the musicians pieces into a final piece of music.  Synthesizers allow this process to be complete after composition.  With a single interface from which all sounds are generated, an entire musical piece can be produced by a single composer.  Although it may seem a insignificant detail in the production of music, the elimination of the musician creates a stronger unity within the composed piece through the elimination of the expression of personal flares in playing techniques in favor for the intentions of the composition and arrangement of the composer (a similar issue to which architects have struggled within their own designs for years).

Ironically, as digital technologies ‘eliminated’ the personal flare of the musician they actively expanded the personal styling of photographers.  The invention of digital photography altered the very medium from which the image is created.  Analogue photographs are created through the use of various chemicals placed between sheets of film which react when exposed to light.  The lens casts varying intensities of light onto the film, rendering an image through the chemical’s reaction to light.  This image is accessed later by the photographer through subjecting the film to a series of chemicals and processes in order to recreate the negative as an image on paper, a photograph.  The processes required to develop a negative were tedious and expensive, thus difficult to generate alterations to the photograph.  Over time, photographers have developed several methods such as dodging and burning to correct mistakes within the photograph, however these could be quite intensive processes.  Because photos were so difficult to adjust, they were always perceived to be truth for they were merely moments of reality recorded through the lens.  The association of photographs the real is well reflected by many of the initial applications of the camera.  Photographers many times would use their cameras for the documentation of an event much in the same way most home photographers do today.  Photographers were typically hired to travel across the country and document American events at various points in history including the Civil War, great depression, and the dust bowl.  The success of these photographs was typically dependent not on the information recorded but the creative influences of the photographer behind the lens.  Although photographers were limited in the alterations they could make in the darkroom, the photographer was always conscious of several aspects of the photograph he was establishing.  Lighting, perspective, focus, composition, balance, and the angle of the camera were always taken into consideration in order to guarantee a good photograph.  Similar to music, analogue photography expressed unity between the body and mind prior to the introduction of digital technology as a mode of production.  As digital photography began to emerge, the separation of the technical knowledge required to  produce an image began to fade in exchange for an emphasis on the knowledge of composition and arrangement.

With the shift to digital photography the composition of the medium was radically altered.  Rather than the image being generated through chemical reactions to light the image is created through binary code.  This code is essentially the arrangement of pixels translated from colors into numbers, or information.  Although the final products look identical, the psychological effect it has on its observers is astounding.  This shift in perception is created by two means: the way in which we obtain the image and the physical construct of the image.  Digital cameras and their editing software were developed as a means for accelerating the production and distribution processes of photographs.  As photographs were more readily available with photographers expanding globally, two basic needs arose.  The first was pursued by the photographer, and the second from the consumer.  Due to the excessive equipment required to develop film, photographers could obviously not travel extensively and carry the equipment necessary to  observe what they have documented.  Photographers sought digital photographs as a means of eliminating the dark room process in photography while establishing instant gratification through the immediate display of the final image.  This was made possible through the implementation of binary code into the construction of a photograph.  As it eliminated the development process, binary code also eliminated transportation of the physical photograph similar to music’s adoption of the radio frequency broadcast.  Because photographs are now simply composed as information, that information may easily be transmitted throughout the world within a split second.  The desire for an images ability to be produced, transmitted, and displayed in less than a second were the primary factors aiding in the research and development of the digital camera, however the implementation of such a technology yielded a secondary result.

The implementation of digital technologies in the field of photography drastically altered the ideology of the photograph once altered as a mode of producing the image.  Once again, this shift from a means of production to a mode of production brings with it the separation of the body and mind as influenced by Western culture.  Because the photographer is no longer hindered by the technical knowledge of developing an image, he is left more time to concentrate on the composition of the photograph.  This has been reflected in the development of photo editing software produced to aid in the development of digital photographs.  With these computer programs the photographer is free to crop, stretch, cut, paste, and do anything imaginable with the image due to the fact that it is no longer constructed through various chemicals but information which may be independently altered at any time.  The ability for information to be readily manipulated on a computer screen is not something which is hidden to the consumer, for most amateur photographers excel in the technical knowledge of how to manipulate such images.  In addition to the accelerated rate of consumption, the ability to manipulate the information which constructs an image has effectively removed the truth from the photograph, the very thing from which it was known to represent for the entirety of its history.  The cultural result has been typically that people see an unbelievable image and immediately dismiss it as being altered rather than a source of credible documentation.  This perceptual shift has also registered an entirely new field for photographers to explore.  While there have always been photographers whom have concentrated on the conceptualization of a photograph rather than documentation, digital manipulations have allowed photographers to significantly expand their creative influence on an image.  Photographers are now free to create images in the same manner as the painters who scorned original photographers for not being true artists.  The fundamental difference between the creative processes of the painter and the digital photographer is that the painter is free to expressively represent the world through the paint on his canvas, while the photographer implements elements of truth onto the canvas in order to create a fictional image.  The psychological effect this has on the viewer is that a painting is clearly an expression of the artist, while many photographs are composed with images from reality which have been restructured in order to create a new whole.  This blurring of reality and fiction often times generate an intriguing relationship between the image and the viewer as they try to dissect the image visually in order to understand its construction, truths, and fictions.

Through the examples of music and photography, architecture may conceive its moment of cognition in order to advance its own practice.  Computer aided programs have become a regularized part of the architectural design practice as well as architectural theory.  Computer aided drafting  programs have utilized technology as in the technical means of production for architectural representations.  Theorists on the other hand have proposed the implementation of computer aided design products which would create a ‘democratic’ architecture through the incorporation of the client directly into the design process.  This is not a new idea, for the Sears Catalogue has been in existence since the early 20th century developing the same concept; however the possibilities of such programs to replace the architect in the design of prototypical building construction are overwhelmingly real.  The future of architecture will not reside in the standard building constructions in which we live today, for these buildings are so generically composed through prefabricated elements that anyone may design a building with the proper tools.  In order to understand how we as architects should evolve, we must first investigate and understand the recent shifts in technologies implemented by the architect.

Historically architecture has been broadly defined as the production of space.  This of course would imply that the medium from which architects design is space.  In an attempt to analyze the potentials of a medium to become digital, space is something which is theoretically impossible to translate into the digital realm.  While its representations have easily become digital,   physical space itself cannot be defined as ‘digital.’  This proposes a very large problem in seeking to advance the role of architects, for their medium is something which is viewed to be physically real and existing, and once placed into the realm of ‘virtual realities,’ the space is no longer perceived as space.  In order to commence the production of a digital medium in architecture, a new definition of the architectural medium must be implemented.  Rather than being defined as the producers of space, it would be more accurate to say that architects are the producers of atmospheres.  The two words seemingly appear to be the same medium, however in concept the two are quite distinct.  The term space refers to the physicality of the parameters from which actions may be carried out in, a seemingly quite generic term.  The term atmosphere however begins to refer to the specific qualities of space which facilitate specific functions and actions within the space an atmosphere occupies.  It is in this way which the term atmosphere acts as a metaphor similar to the term circulation.  As the designers of space, architects are not truly concerned with how the space functions, for its formal relations are quite generic and allow for nearly any form of inhabitation.  On the contrary, the designers of atmospheres are more closely concerned with the specific qualities of materiality and exchange of information which facilitate highly specific functions and utility.  These atmospheres are not the static, generic forms generated by the architectures of our past, but dynamic, evolving forms which grow with the changing use of a space in order to further progress the evolution of its inhabitants.

To pinpoint the moment in which architects began their concern with atmospheres would be quite debatable, however it is something which has interested the profession for thousands of years and only recently has it been something which is the dominant concern of the architect.  As new technologies emerge, architects incorporate their potentials into a design.  In order to provide these atmospheres with a history, it may be argued that the implementation of an indoor fireplace heats directly alters the atmosphere of a space while the incorporation of glass into architecture allows for the exposure of light within an atmosphere while oil lamps provided opportunities for artificial light when the sun was not available, and the materiality of a building may be designed in response to the thermal atmospheres of its environment.  More recently, architects have begun to approach the control of such atmospheric qualities with a more authoritative approach due to the opportunities provided through the industrial revolution.  Electronic lighting, indoor plumbing, heating and air conditioning, as well as humidity control within the ventilation systems began to emerge as the new architectural medium during the early twentieth century, evolving the profession towards the design of atmospheres rather than spaces.  Architects and engineers have developed a means from which to quantify and analyze the performance of atmospheric services; equally their designs have yielded a response.  Minor ‘rules’ have been implemented in organizing atmospheric services such as placing heat sources near windows in order to compensate for drafts, however no real change has been made in the formal arrangement of the atmosphere itself.

Historically, the formal qualities of a space are derived from the system which is defining it.  The defining technologies have always been evolving, for technology is something which does not stand still.  Many engineering companies are now developing new materials to satisfy better performative capabilities within atmospheric measures due to our cultures emerging interest in being ‘green.’  The performative capabilities of such materials typically yield results which are not only superior atmospherically but structurally as well.  Often times we as architects neglect the atmospheric performance of an architecture in exchange for aesthetic value, however as a profession we must begin to alter our designs in response to the newly exposed potentials of the materials produced by our technologies.  For centuries architecture has been defined through right angles due to its direct relation to the structural integrity of a building.  As materials gain strength and lose weight, the formal organization of space allows for more potentials to facilitate the atmospheres intended within a design.  Architecture has registered shifts on a small scale towards an atmospheric design in several ways.  Many new technologies have been implemented which seek to optimize a building’s performance within the literal atmospheric qualities, however once implemented look strikingly similar to the inefficient components they sought to replace.  A new image for these atmospheric systems must take place in which the formal relations of an architecture are derived from their performative capabilities while embracing the social atmospheres also emerging within the field of architecture, for an atmospheric architecture does not simply end with the literal atmosphere itself but extend its grasps into the social atmospheres of space as well.

The realizations of these atmospheric architectures to be expressed within a digital medium is something which has only begun to emerge in practice.  Similar to the Fluxus artists influencing music, media artists have began to generate digital ‘gizmos’ capable of the exchange of information with human users.  It must be realized that the reason for music and photography’s rapid success with this ‘digital transition’ is due to the fact that consumption plays a large role in the drive for the development of technologies which facilitate this transition.  Because the interactions of people occur on a more dynamic level than simply sound or image, the technologies which engage multiple senses required for architecture have only recently been explored.  Media artists have began to explore potential interactions between humans and these interfaces as well as the potential for these systems to have a level of ‘intelligence.’  The reason for not classifying the works of many media artists in the realm of architecture is that because much of their work may have architectural qualities, it cannot be defined as social atmospheres but as objects from which to engage with.  These interfaces do not become atmospheres until they leave the realm of a ‘gallery’ in which the technologies are an object of spectacle and maintain their existence as a functioning element of a social space which facilitates social evolution.  If architects are to come to the realization that architecture is not about the organization of space but the characterization of atmospheres than it may be said that the media artists of the present may eventually abandon their title of artists for the adoption of the term architect, but only when their ‘gizmos’ become a part of a larger social networking.  This is not to downplay the integral role these artists have played in the transition which architecture is undertaking, for similar to the Fluxus artists in music, the musicians which have popularized their methods would not have done so without the ‘gimmicks’ derived by artists outside the realm of music.  A select few artists and architects are beginning to divulge into the architectures of the future, however the surface is merely scratched.  The evolution of an architecture characterized through digital atmospheres responding to the exchanges of information requires a cognitive shift in the very perception of architecture itself.

The conceptual basis for this shift in the perception of our medium is not something which is arbitrary or new, for like the analytical feedback loop of Theburge, this change in the potentials of our medium was brought about by the incorporation of technology within the process of architectural production.  CAD products are clear reconstructions of the techniques and methods utilized by hand drafting.  The final products of these design methods are seemingly identical, much in the way a digital photograph appears to be the same as an analogue photograph.  Similarly, there is a clear distinction in our perception of the analogue and digital.  While the construction of hand drawings is laborious and time consuming, the success of CAD products is their abilities to rapidly produce and alter a document.  Drawings composed traditionally by hand are documents which can be viewed as having the same permanence as the built works they represent.  Once a line is drawn on the paper, it becomes a static object which can be quite difficult and cumbersome to alter.  Although the drawing is just a representation of the real object, the built work similarly displays this sense of permanence.  Lines are translated into walls, and the two dimensions of paper into space.  The permanence of these objects remains throughout the entirety of the design process, leaving little room for the evolution of a space over time, a crucial element of the functionality of a built architecture.  With the emergence of CAD programs, drawings have effectively lost their permanence of information.  Because the lines are not fixed to a single plane, the information which organizes them may be adapted and updated with the evolving needs of a function.  The effect this has on a designer does not end at the production of a document but is carried out into the realization of a built work.  As a result, built works have increasingly seen the necessity for adaptation and evolution evident in their representations.  It is in this fashion that the way in which we represent space has altered our perception of the medium from which we work.  Our focus no longer becomes about the organization of space itself but the organization of the qualities which define space and facilitate evolution.

Works Cited

Banham, Reyner. The Architecture of the Well-tempered Environment. Second Edition ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1969. Print.

Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. France: Leses du reel, 1998. Print.

Katz, Mark. Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music. Los Angeles: University of California, 1974. Print.

Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Oxford: Blackwell, 1988. Print.

Lipkin, Jonathan. Photography Reborn: Image Making in the DIgital Era. China: Abrams Studio, 2005. Print.

Paul, Christian. Digital Art. 2nd ed. Singapore: Thames & Hudson Inc, 1999. Print.

Ritchin, Fred. After Photography. China: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009. Print.

Sterling, Bruce. Shaping Things. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT, 2005. Print.

Taylor, Timothy D. Strange Sounds: Music, Technology, and Culture. New York: Routledge, 2001. Print.

Theberge, Paul. Any Sound You Can Imagine: Making Music/ Consuming Technology. Hanover, NH: University of New England, 1997. Print.


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