Stillness movement : __________________________________________________ 3 – A formula for every space
This text is the 3rd part of a triptych « Stillness movement ». It has been published through 4 articles in « Chroniques d’architecture » during spring 2021.
I will always remember the emotion felt in Olympia facing the track of the first Olympic Games. There was almost nothing left, just a line and yet the emotion was immense, intense. Thought, memory, history and narrative, alone, fully constituted the place like a great architecture. Can an architectural emotion be expressed in the absence of construction? Beyond or below a material form?
Arthur Rimbaud already invited us to “Find the place and the formula”. And if the formula participated in making the place? Be that as it may, it fits; and together, simultaneously, place and formula orient or organize the environment, (of) life. They augment it.
Difficult to define, a formula is always plural. It connects times. It juxtaposes or combines explanation, composition, description, incantation, process (recipe), suggestion, functioning, adjustment. It facilitates the proper use of the place and allows the inhabitants (managers, occupants, visitors), who so wish, to better listen to or act on the architecture, to transform it, adapt it, regulate the atmosphere or quite simply play with it.
The formula is not an architectural program. It is not a question of defining the general use of a space which is often known before the design (offices, housing, a hospital, a school, etc.). It is not an internal regulation, which is established independently of the architecture. It is an addition, an immaterial application inseparable from the built and multiple place: possibly memory, rule, instructions, ritual, supplement of soul. It helps to make it work better, to transform it, to appropriate it and sometimes also to make it sacred. It is a « modus-operandi » of the n-spaces in relation to the interior and exterior environments; a writing that instructs, documents, guides, acts.
Essential tools for the proper functioning and appropriation of architecture as an instrument of environments, it can also participate in building a part of surprise and magic, however small, necessary for any building. The formula activates the soul sculpted by architecture, it completes an identity, adds a guide, shapes a fable, choreographs part of the lifestyle that it hosts and which completes the work – always a work of architecture is finalized by the life of its inhabitants -.
In Olympia, history, ancient stories and their enhancement resonate, color and formulate. Some buildings of the past: temples, mausoleums, religious buildings have their embryos of formula for any visitor whether he is a believer or not – only the resonance changes –, and habitats too. They vary. These ancestors of the formulas as we are going to describe them are, in these cases, more attached to a type of monument or to a geography (building of such belief or history, habitat of such culture), than to architecture or building himself. For more commonplaces, there are more anecdotal “formulas”, often conventional, identical everywhere and rarely expressed. These are habits and customs or rituals often linked to crossing a threshold such as the prohibition to touch, to write on the walls, the need to take off your shoes, to discover yourself, etc.
Today, the multiplicity of arrangements, configurations and processes are at the same time relational, spatial, luminous, climatic, memorial or spatio-digital. So, in the light of new techniques and the digital age; the design of each building as an instrument of environments, widens the possible fields of action. Consequently, a more substantial formula becomes necessary to explain, simplify, increase ecological performance and participate, even more than in the past, in the spirit of the place.
Associated with n-spaces, the formula inscribes a corpus of physical, social, digital or usage rules, at the same time descriptive, prescriptive and generative, which animate the building and orient part of the life that takes place there.
Partly performative, this writing acts in real life: on the material (built), the way (to inhabit it), and especially on the relationships created or maintained between architecture and the environments on the one hand and on the living things on the other hand. It can describe certain effects, formulate the way to use the instrument and propose certain compositions or scenarios.
Combining processes, means, explanations or rules; confidential or shared, the formula shapes the place: its use, lifestyles, or its built environment, its relationships.
It contains fixed parts that will follow the building throughout its lifespan, tracing the continuity of uses, history, lives; and it contains variable, adjustable parts, modifiable at different time scales, improving the re-appropriation of the place, by transforming certain instructions for use, or certain reactions of its environment.
A multi-statement formula
The formula is a composite and complex writing. It contains several more or less private statements, more or less accessible depending on the nature of the person who wishes to consult them. They may require prior knowledge to enter the place.
The formula is like a partly open, partly hidden code. It instructs both the inhabitant on how to use the instrument; and the instrument by improving its self-operating system. It brings together various statements. We are going to identify certain typologies:
Typology (of statement) no. 1: a user manual that explains how it works, its climatic adaptability and uses
The user manual for architecture (environment instrument) is a kind of manual for the instrument, intended for the resident, regular user. It reveals tricks, indicates means and ways, for example:
- Actions to transform the place according to uses and needs
It describes the possible arrangements (a meeting room which becomes a work or play area for children, an amphitheater which is open to the public, a refectory which hosts conferences, etc.); the means (displacement of partitions, use of doors, etc.) and the use of space-time transformability tools (spaces used in relation to the spaces served, digital application, etc.).
- Actions with a « climatic » purpose for better thermal regulation (especially natural) of the atmosphere through an ecology of action.
The user manual guides the use, gives instructions to improve the indoor climate or make better use of the place. It describes quick actions to be implemented, to reduce or increase solar heat gain, use spaces according to their sensitive properties, ensure good ventilation, etc. For example, for better summer comfort in a hot zone, it can suggest activating certain systems or quite simply indicating the doors, windows or openings to be left open so as to produce effective nocturnal over-ventilation and cool the air. In this case, the architecture would have previously designed the openings according to the prevailing winds and the circulation of interior air, while integrating any anti-burglary systems depending on the context.
- Actions for seasonal adjustment
The formula describes more substantial transformations thought beforehand to better adapt a building to the climate according to the seasons. It is a question of explaining the operating mode of various architectural mechanisms designed and implemented in order to transform the building or the place, via quarterly or half-yearly interventions, so that it reacts better with the external environment. In Phoenix Palace, a neighborhood renewal project around a railway infrastructure, we had designed a complex based on recycled containers which, thanks to a system of removable canvases, were completely transformed between winter and summer in order to be adaptable to the climate.
Typology (of statement) no. 2: keys to understanding and sensations
Intended for residents but also visitors, these statements instruct and demonstrate, like a guide without a specific route. They direct the gaze and invite to sensitive experiences or simply to better listen to the surroundings. The formula is used here to describe the effects of the instrument, of the magic of the architecture, to better observe them. It maps non-exhaustive series of events, mainly sensory, which can take place according to different parameters resulting from climatic, biological or human consequences in the short or long term. It explains resonance processes, autonomous or in relation to the external environment. It delivers keys to discovering certain situations or hidden mysteries such as the writing and the appearance of events according to time, to the way in which, for example, Stonehenge can react and « light up » at the solstices.
It describes the specific atmospheres of certain places: level of sound, reverberation, luminosity, various effects which can vary at different frequencies. For example, a space that would open onto an exterior receiving regular temporary events (a market, a concert) would have a different atmosphere depending on the day and the time with a possible impact on the use of the spaces. The statement helps to take better advantage of all these contextual specificities integrated into the architectural project.
Typology (of statement) no. 3: descriptions of possible actions with a sensitive purpose
These are proposals or compositions that (would be) played (in) space. This typology of statements intended for « creative » inhabitants, wishing to « make the instrument sing » or to interact with it, mainly concerns the description of physical actions and comes in two types of incidences describing patterns to make the environment “dance”:
- the transformation of atmosphere
The formula describes the means to make the sensitive atmosphere vibrate and vary. For example, acting on the atmosphere through the regulation of light (natural and artificial) which transforms colors, resonance (acoustic parameters), humidity, heat or the feeling of heat (fire) etc. It is a question of describing, giving examples of actions on the environment made possible by architecture: playing the environment as one would play music; present the modulations or actions (e.g. orienting a mirror) likely to produce and shape one or more events (e.g. adding a splash of light in a shadow zone or observing an invisible part of space) according to natural parameters and/or artificial (eg the position of the sun or the observer).
- the production of compositions
The formula also contains scores or stories that the instrument can play. By describing these compositions or scenarios, it relates observation (the inhabitant is invited to observe such a phenomenon) with actions inducing in turn possible reactions (the inhabitant is invited to act to produce such a phenomenon: orienting a reflective panel, position a sliding shutter, etc; or more simply move around in space). If observation is more passive, only external actions (climatic or other) produce reactions and resonate with the perceived environment. The appreciation of an architectural effect often requires on the one hand the creation of this effect (production, generation) and on the other hand the good positioning of the gaze, of the observer to appreciate this effect. A bit like a cinematographic sequence that depends both on the scene that is playing and on the angle of view from which it is filmed (the eye of the camera or the framing).
These statements explain physical subtleties. They can be linked to algorithms that govern immaterial aesthetics, other statements of the formula.
Typology (of statement) n° 4: organization and regulation of actions-reactions (writing of the computer program)
This family of statements acts, from the inside, on the essence of the building and gives it color, rhythm, and pulse. Just like the facade (which is only an external part of the architecture), it shapes its identity.
It is made up of pre-designed algorithms, opened or closed, which will organize the actions and reactions of the electrical and electronic systems in place via a network of sensors and activators. They will plan certain settings (climate, luminosity, memory, use) and coordinate the more or less ostentatious « movement » of immaterial aesthetics.
The formula here is made of computer code. It coordinates the functioning of the intrinsic mechanics of previously determined systems, for example like a program which, regulates a temperature according to more or less adjustable parameters. Ultimately, the objective is to create varied environments, whose composition, at different scales, will draw a « character » by organizing the vibration of materials, the dynamics of atmospheres.
The formula also manages hybrid processes such as the organization of memory and traces, by orchestrating the modalities of their registration (both physical and digital) to ensure a better appropriation of the place (1).
Part of the statements are open and can be adjusted or adapted, so as to transform the initial composition which can learn through artificial intelligence systems or be transformed by human actions acting on the algorithms in temporary and permanent ways.
Typology (of statement) n° 5: the description of certain rules of use or rituals
Aimed at visitors and residents, this time the formula describes suggested behavioral rules and regulates certain uses.
It formulates possible rituals of entry, exit, route, or protocols linked to the climate, the weather, or people, like a usage scripts in relation to spaces.
It defines and describes processes to organize the evolution of the place over time, how it ages. Like a winemaking process, the formula can guide the rules for inscribing physical or virtual traces in the n-spaces, actions on the vegetation, its evolution… a bit like with the maintenance of a garden. The landscaper delivers a landscape that will change from year to year with the growth of trees and plants. In a similar way, it is possible to formulate the modalities of evolution of the living things (plant and animal), actions-reactions, materials in relation to architecture. These modalities can describe a final result but also processes, such as Gilles Clément’s concept of the moving garden, which integrates the evolution and movement of plants in relation to each other and leaves the gardener (present, future) a part of the choice.
The formula here is an orientation of the continuation of the unfinished work (2).
These rules participate in the ar(t)chitecture, they guide its experience. Taken to excess, they could take the form of an installation, a little like in the art compositions of Tino Sehgal, for example at the Palais de Tokyo (3), where the « color » of the work is born in/ with the empty space, through the rules formulated for its participants: dancers, actors; through their encounter, action and interaction with visitors.
But these statements of formula are not intended to be intrusive. They should not be confused with the rules of regulatory use specific to an activity, an occupation or an appropriation which are generally defined by the inhabitant which occupies the place (individual , company, institution etc).
These five typologies of statements present the extent of the role that the formula can play. But these families are neither compartmentalized, nor exhaustive, nor restrictive. A rich formula, systematically integrates hazards. It will be able to play with overlaps, and sometimes contradictions between the different types of statements.
An architecture instrument of environments naturally produces movements in immobility: the capture of the movement of a ray of sunshine, of a breath of wind, are added to digital reminiscences and other digital events. The formula, made up of statements of various natures, accompanies this movement. It orients a perception, composes a frame, an atmosphere, an ephemeral oriented writing. The formula multiplies the levels of interpretation of architecture, the richness of which should appeal to both the layman and the initiated. It reinvents itself, never ending. – Builders have always filled their construction with hidden subtleties, from the oldest temples, to the subtle architectures of today, including pyramids, cathedrals, etc. -
The building instrument of environments is enriched, inseparable, from a notebook that is both material and/or immaterial, readable and/or unreadable, a guide and/or a mirage. The formula and the place become inseparable.
The formula helps to read and acts on the place, it composes it temporarily. Its writing contributes to the conception of the work. It will have an impact on the appearance of the building but also on its echo, its use (making the instrument resonate) and the way in which it is perceived, appropriated.
Its structure is made up of statements, some of which are associated with the building and its architecture. Often fixed in time and space, this fixed part concerns, at least, what is linked to the climate, the site, learning how to use it, the relationship with the neighborhood, optimizing its consumption and the architectural specificity of the place (immaterial aesthetics).
Another part is associated with the occupants or visitors (individual inhabitants, a company, a manager) who can make it evolve through their discoveries or their developments. Partially convertible, it can then facilitate the implementation of new uses, a bit like a telephone that hosts an interface and its preferences. Thus, a design of appropriate statements would help the use and identification of a set of networked buildings: hotels, sports areas, multi-site companies, etc.
When its construction calls on different actors (computer specialists, designers, etc.), the architect ensures consistency between the formula and the instrument, but also the conservation and continuity of the systems. He is attentive to the proper registration and use of all data related to the “building learning” (such as machine learning), whether it concerns the memory of the place, its relationship to the living things and nearby environments or its proper use of energy and spaces. Visible or invisible, the formula is inscribed on different physical or virtual media: a notebook, a smartphone or in one of the layers of augmented spaces.
Exploitation leads to certain readjustments. In this sense, it is desirable to support the « running in » of the building, during the first years, so as to readjust certain statements according to the experience of the newly built places.
The Phillips pavillon at the 1958 Universal Exhibition in Brussels is interesting in this sense because the architecture cannot, in this case, be dissociated from a semblance of formula through its status of electronic poem (visual and sound). This project is an installation by Le Corbusier, who delegates the architectural part to Iannis Xenakis, the musical part to Edgard Varèse, designing the visual and textual parts himself. The work extends beyond a material architecture: everything was created together and everything disappeared together. The formula here is inseparable from the building.
In my habitat, a place of architectural research, I experiment on a small scale with some infinitesimal effects capable of surprising and making the space vibrate, singing according to the climate and desires. The actions-reactions here today are only physical (question of means). They have built up organically over time.
1.1 – The kitchen is a volume with an independent exterior envelope, facing south. It plays the role of a bioclimatic greenhouse. The actions are multiple: open or close the blinds, the bay windows, a « skylight » or the access door to the rest of the house. The temperature of each space is measured and visible. In winter and mid-season, keep (if possible) the door in connection with the rest of the house and the skylight closed, the blinds up. In case of strong sunlight, open the door so that the excess heat is evacuated towards the house. In summer, lower the blinds in case of absence, and open the skylight in the upper part to create a draft and evacuate hot air in the evening or during the day, etc.
1.2 – Layout: the table partially slides under the bookcase or unfolds.
1.3 – The bench and the window sill above it both serve as a seat and as a threshold (staircase).
1.4 – Upstairs, depending on the number of inhabitants, two bedrooms can communicate through an interstitial space. Closed, it can also serve as common storage. Open the two cupboard doors to allow air and light to circulate.
To warm up :
1.5 – Go closer to the fireplace. Its operation requires the opening of the ventilation grille in the immediate vicinity.
1.6 – Sit on the bench located above a radiator and increase the intensity of its heating.
1.7 – Move up above one of the habitable piece of furniture (it is hotter above).
1.8 – Create an East/West air current on R+1 or R+1 and R+2 using Italian window openings.
1.9 – Install the shading canvas on the terrace.
Typology of statement n° 2 (keys to understanding and sensations of the place)
2.1 – From the top of the habitable furniture, two people cannot see each other, unless they look in the direction of the mirror located above the desk. The field of vision increases (See the effect).
2.2 – A hole in the « half-partition guardrail » lets a ray of light appear in the staircase in the morning at the end of spring.
2.3 – From May to September, leaving the door of a bedroom on the second floor open, at the end of the day, the setting sun is reflected in the broken mirrors of the upper staircase.
2.4 – During spring, summer and autumn, at the end of the day, the west sun’s rays are reflected in the mirrors of the terrace. They produce bright light to the east with spots of light moving to the east inside the living room or on the terrace.
2.5 – At the same time, the setting sun is reflected in a high entrance mirror (ground floor) oriented to produce a moving parallelogram of light on the opposite wall.
2.6 – The visible and audible colored pipes resonate with the sound of cascading movements of water in the bathroom and the stairs.
2.7 – Rectangular dichroic films change color according to the luminosity, in the morning and evening. They are visible from the inside and the outside on certain windows, doors and glass walls.
2.8 – Look at the sky while taking a shower.
2.9 – Discover a message on the door of the stove.
2.10 – Listen to the sound variations of the rain in the kitchen.
2.etc – Some hidden spaces and other mysteries.
Typology of statement no. 3: descriptions of possible actions with a sensitive purpose
3.1 – Positioning of a wind chime.
3.2 – Description of some different ways to use the living furniture: position of the body, effect with the bathroom mirror when opening the door, view from above on the outside, opening / closing of mobile elements.
3.3 – Artificial light: description of color and lighting variations.
3.4 – Positioning a hammock.
3.5 – Shading variation.
3.etc – Orientations around the living things: maintenance and/or planting of plants, perfume, inviting birds or insects…
Typology of statement n° 4 (organization of actions-reactions (computer program))
None (at this stage)
Typology of statement n° 5 (description of certain rules of use or rituals)
The formula sets out certain precepts that frame and organize.
If it is allowed to write on the walls, it quickly seemes obvious that simple rules have to be put in place. They should not be the same in all rooms and on all surfaces. Even if it is welcomed, chaos is always organized; thus a painted frame gathers the inscriptions that the guests or visitors would like to leave (5.1).
Close to the ceiling, there is a place where writing is authorized, for connoisseurs (the inhabitants) but in finesse, with small letters for messages readable only a few cm from the surface (5.2), another welcomes the name of certain films viewed in the place (5.3), another of the memories of confinement (5.4).
Elsewhere, there are dark flat areas of « blackboards » which receive more or less ephemeral chalk messages. One is a useful memo, the others are surfaces each associated with an inhabitant, a place to send him a message (5.5).
These rules of use, these actions or orientations of the gaze are not strict, they evolve, invite and color the place, organize its maturation.
The architectural design and the writing of the instrument of environments, accompanied by a formula, constitute a whole, an experience, a singular environment where situations (scenarios) are repeated, emerge, sometimes enrich themselves, to the rhythms of the seasons, sky or passages, never exactly the same, never exactly different. They renew themselves. Stories appear, the walls speak.
Half landscape, half work of art, full of signs, the ar(t)chitecture leaves a trace to then be discovered and increases its possibilities of resonances. Combined with ecosystems, it directs the gaze and provides the first signs of possible tracking. Blind spots light up.
Sets, formulas and ar(t)chitecture can orient or even twist reality, overturn preconceived ideas, to question, see without being seen, touch, awaken, make people feel, desire, fantasize, dream.
They exalt a writing of circumstance, which changes according to the atmosphere, producing a (meta)writing, long lasting this time, which marks memories and transforms the decor.
Combined with new digital tools, they feed the n-spaces and further multiply the possibilities. They weave links that widen the field of sensations and the degrees of freedom. They welcome and let the unexpected flourish. They initiate a poetics of the place, enrich the experience and caress the lives of their inhabitants and passers-by.
Eric Cassar 2021