Architecture has traditionally existed in the static realm, built from solid-state materials arranged in a certain configuration to arrive at a particular form. Every building has a “climax form” – that is, the originally intended geometry. This form is assertive in its territorial control, unchanging in its aesthetic, and largely unresponsive to┬áits environment. Such architectures come across as stable and definitive, but in reality they are quite frail, because any deviation from the climax form results in failure. In his article “The Shape of Energy”, Sean Lally advocates for a new architecture that is based on “material energies”. We are constantly surrounded by different energies – thermodynamic, electromagnetic, acoustic, chemicals – and we take them for granted, but in reality the role which they play in our lives and in influencing our behaviours are just as, if not more important, than our concrete environment. Material energies create boundaries that are fluid and responsive, resulting in a vernacular that is intimately connected to both regional and climatic conditions. So how would one apply these intangible energies? Unfortunately, while he brings up some very interesting points, Sean Lally has failed to address the practical application of his ideations. One cannot just take energy and build with it. Humans exist in the physical domain, and we do not have a physical grasp on energy. In order to use something as a building block, one must first gain an intimate understanding of the material at hand, and while we may have an intuitive sense of different energies since we are surrounded by and interact with them on a daily basis, we are a far cry from being able to control them, not to mention manipulate them for careful study and experimentation, and eventually incorporate them into our architectural realm. What I find fascinating is the physical manifestation of energy. Every energy somehow influences the physical environment. Tree wells form because heat generated by trees melts the surrounding snow, and compass needles point north because of the Earth’s magnetic field. Paying attention to changes in the physical environment provides information about surrounding energies as well as changes in energy conditions. A person putting on a sweater might signify a drop in temperature, while the same person, now reading a book, moving from one room to another might suggest an increase in noise or a decrease in light in the former space. By observing such changes in our environment, one can gain much insight into the invisible forces that surround us. Another compelling thought is that architecture based on material energies would be able to adapt almost instantaneously to changes in the environment or in social programming. Through a feedback relationship between material energies and existing climatic context, an active dialogue would emerge between a building’s environment and its building blocks, with architecture that can either “dissipate on command” or respond accordingly in its shape and configuration. Of course, such a fluid reality is still far away. It is interesting to view Sou Fujimoto’s House N in light of material energies. The house itself is purist and minimalistic, and in the physical domain it might seem like a purely spatial exercise – that is, three shells nested one inside the other. However, it is not just the walls that create an increased sense of privacy and separation as one moves deeper into the house; the change in light, sound, view planes, temperature, bodily sense of enclosure, etc. all contribute to the gradient that exists through the spaces. I am of the strong opinion that so long as we do not transgress the physical nature of our corporeal existence, neither will our architecture. However, this does not mean that we cannot study and become more in tune with the forces that we cannot readily control, because we can certainly shape existing energies with solid-state building materials. An example that comes to mind is Philippe Rahm’s Convective Apartments, in which the architecture is designed according to the principle of convection. In this case, it is the existing thermal landscape that has shaped the resulting configuration of the building’s solid elements. Even though the architecture remains static and potentially iconic in its form, this is the first step towards an architecture informed by energy. I would be interested in examining such basic physical and climatic principles in order to generate systematic, vernacular designs that directly reflect their environmental conditions.

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