Stillness movement : __________________________________________________ 2 – Architecture is an environmental instrument
This text is the 2nd part of a triptych « Stillness movement ». It has been published through 3 articles in « Chroniques d’architecture » during winter 2020-2021.
Being bored somewhere invites you to get to know the place better, to set out to rediscover it, to sharpen your gaze, to read and track the unknown. If the subtle ar(t)chitecture (1) is there, nuances are always revealed and the place resonates in us and us with it.
Reading an ar(t)chitecture both as an integrated environment and as a sound board for inner and exterior actions, also requires activating one’s curiosity, searching for signs as if we were in a wild space or a landscape looking for a plant or an animal (2). But it is because this forest of signs is designed, or made possible, by ar(t)chitecture that our senses are sharpened. These signs can appear by chance or be the result of the architecture as a preliminary writing – even if it is a writing of the contingency. Ar(t)chitecture is at the same time the support, the writing instrument and a polysemous writing, forever changing, charged with mystery, of which certain hidden meanings are clarified according to parameters or unforeseen events.
Architecture is an instrument for measuring and observing the world (the environment), an instrument in the sense of a tool of perception (3). But it is also an instrument for the production of sensitive environments, of effects, like the musical instrument which has created a language of sounds and various harmonies. In this sense, ar(t)chitecture becomes an environmental instrument, both listened to and sometimes played by life.
The idea of instrument sheds light on the importance of the result, of the effect, even more than the object, the tool itself (the building). The instrument does or creates something. It is designed for what it produces.
Architecture supports an activity, sculpts space, suggests encounters (with others, materials, a landscape, etc.). It (dis)orients the senses and arouses events. It acts on the inner environment (which it produces) and on exterior environments, which then act on us. Its impact is as important as its essence. Its “being” merges with its “action”. Architecture is simultaneously the thing and the effect produced (4), the consequence. It is resonance and undulation. The instrument of environments produces a building endowed with stillness movements (5) in the n-spaces. The instrument is more or less rich and complex although today, it often isn’t, because the construction is content with uniform and incapable volumes, that is to say generator of no effect and no variation.
However, even perfect, an instrument is never enough on its own. It is always an instrument of something and it is always played. Depending on its nature, the field of possibilities increases or decreases, but the resulting action, the work, even beforehand composed or written, is always ontologically open.
Once the instrument has been created, there are one or more « actors » and a substance produced: the work. Architecture as an instrument of environments joins this other idea, that architecture is an unfinished art which is completed by the life impulsed by its inhabitants and visitors.
Modernism conceives it more as a minimalist, uninhabited, frozen sculpture, a matter of light and shadow where the inhabitant disappears. In the case of an architecture-instrument, it is the impact on the inhabitant that interests us.
Whether he is an observer or an actor, his sensitivity, his « capability », must be empowered. The architecture can decide to fade away but it must remain able to signal through messages, even infinitesimal ones. The more or less hidden signs are able to reveal themselves, or not, depending on different parameters. Architecture challenges the inhabitant, sometimes stimulates him, consciously or unconsciously, subtly. It releases perceptions, frames, proposes to enter into vibration alternately by its presence or its disappearance, its relations with the landscapes (physical or virtual), and with the other n-spaces. Plurality (producing multiple actions and effects), it relaxes, awakens senses and thoughts, excites questioning. It then invites interaction, opening up new fields of action and reflection.
Vladimir Vernadsky has shown how all living things are intertwined with the biosphere and how human activity acts on it. It is the same for the inhabitant with his environment. Inseparable, they interact, that is to say that the environment (also) acts on us. However, our environment today is unbalanced, it is colonized by virtual spaces, screens (smartphone, computer, television, etc.) which increasingly absorb our attention.
There are many reasons for this, but one of them is partly due to filling in an empty space. Digital spaces are bewitching first of all because they meet our primary expectations, limiting our efforts and stimulating us in gross ways; but also because they fill the gap in our increasingly banal and boring physical spaces.
Architecture participates in the organization of our environment (both in its physical and virtual dimensions) in the sense that it produces environments and it stimulates, generates, promotes or reduces certain relationships. It is active and it acts on its occasional inhabitants (when we visit a place) or permanent ones (when we live there). It can help them to heal and to think, to move and to be moved, to better exchange with each other, to come up with (new) ideas. This maieutic dimension is explained by its ability to structure, fertilize environments and therefore inhabitants, first through our habitat and also our neighborhoods and all the buildings we pass through. It is a tool of individuation (6).
The beauty of an environment, its stillness movement – the work of the instrument – soothes. When you are locked up at home (in confinement) or in a hospital room, sometimes psychologically affected by an uncomfortable (even painful) situation, the importance of architecture increases, it characterizes the atmosphere, it participates in the care. It can relieve, question, inspire. Yet it often remains negatively empty and neutral, it disappears behind its function, leaving the field open only to a useful and confused decor and to the virtual windows of our smartphones.
Its absence then promotes confinement and alienation. The impoverishment of the physical environment and its standardization leads, in its wake, to a withering of thoughts and individuals. Reducing architecture today to an inert shell, uniform because optimized to meet only simple standardized expectations, often to a number of m² and an energy performance, induces deficiencies, produces an underlying feeling of painfulness and represents a danger for the evolution of human societies (7).
It is time to turn the page, to revalue the a-normality which incites you to reopen yours eyes. The ar(t)chitecture, as an instrument of environments must help (in addition to gardens or « natural » freely evolving spaces) to produce a new balance between physical and virtual environments, through more diverse, more subtle, more fragrant environments.
The luthier (or the architect)
The living architect designed an instrument for habitation and to be inhabited from birth to death : to grow, learn, have fun, store, work, play, heal, feed, live, dream, spend, speak, listen, debate, create, do, meet, find one another, exchange, love one another, be moved, etc.
Its destination can vary, be specific or multiple (simultaneously or alternately) but the instrument, beyond being just an effective support for use, has an essential role for the proper accomplishment of the purposes of its functions. To do this, it must be able to connect imperceptibly with us via the environments in which we are immersed, playing the environment and playing with the environment, sometimes simultaneously.
The environment is both the exterior and interior climate, the atmosphere, the sensitive construction, the shape and texture of the walls, the smell, the digital and physical traces produced by the living beings present, but also by the objects, the materials, etc. It’s around us, everything that is not exclusively us but with which we are in inter-relations. Thus the instrument is able to feed on the environment, to compose a mechanics of weaving – sometimes unconsciously –, by transforming and enriching it.
It is then a question of playing with the environment as one would play music. The cello sings through the meeting of the horsehair bow with the metal of the strings which vibrates in the wood. It is the instrument of the cellist and of music. An architecture is the instrument of the “environment times environment”, because architecture plays on the environment as the instrument plays music and it is played, among other things, by the environment as the instrument is played by a musician.
The environment is the substance produced but it can also be the initiator. A little like a simple wind chime, it transforms an energy produced by the environment (here the wind) into an effect altering the sensitive environment (here the sound generated).
If the architecture first sought to protect the inhabitants from the variations of the external environment (the shelter), it then worked to create a form of ideal environment, which became a standardized comfort (8), frozen. It must now seek to play with the external environment both to better connect with it and because it represents an immense source of randomization, chance and modulation.
The exterior, subset of the biosphere, essential to our survival, whatever it is, becomes, for the instrument, a source of potential energy and possible stimuli: words for a new language. Architecture is no longer a closed system but an open system that takes advantage of all the inputs acting simultaneously from the interior (inhabitants, objects, etc.) and the exterior (the living, the climate, etc.).
Defining architecture as an instrument of environments does not mean the instrumental field. The origin of the playing (the action) can draw from many sources. Since there are hundreds of types of musical instruments, there must be an infinite number of types of environment instruments. Even if families can be formed, each instrument, each ar(t)chitecture will differ, playing more with sounds, physical movements, digital memories, climate, emotions, crowds, encounters, etc.
Thus the work of the architect no longer creates only a useful decor but a unique, active decor, activatable by several “subjects”: humans, living things and non-living things.
The instrument must be able to accommodate, combine, play with the predictable, the unpredictable and the actions of multiple and diverse actors ; even if certain rules depend on the instrument itself, that is to say on the architecture (physical and digital) of the place. It is usually played by several people:
– the inhabitants (9): owners, managers, or occupants. They reproduce or manufacture a composition (consciously or unconsciously) from the possibilities opened up by the instrument designed by the architect and placed at their disposal: actions as simple as closing a shutter, directing a blind, lighting a fire, opening a window, increasing the flow of ventilation, but also making a terrace accessible (apart from a simple amenity), adapting the place to a new use, (un)dressing an envelope, dividing or assembling rooms, modulating (physically and numerically) inner vibrations and accessing to other n-spaces, etc. This transformation of the place is facilitated by architectural design tools such as the notions of served and serving spaces as defined by Louis Kahn, whose efficiency can be amplified by an increased management of an infrastructure and a digital application, combined with human « conductors » (10).
– the climate (short and long term): more or less natural source of unforeseen events, which involves different rhythms. The position of the sun varies with the seasons. A gust of wind, a shower or a sunny spot appear over shorter periods of time in more unpredictable ways, but it is possible to anticipate their actions and amplify certain resonances (without knowing either exactly when, where, or how long they will take place.).
– vegetation through flowering, the growth of plants, trees and all types of living things depending on the context. An architecture can be conducive to welcoming and listening to other forms of life (flora and fauna) which, in turn, will act on the place. It can dialogue with them or encourage life to different degrees (11).
– (connected) objects whose programmed behavior (more or less determined or random) could have repercussions on the indoor environment. Various mechanisms, internal to the place, could increase, improve, alter or even occasionally « disrupt » the instrument.
– other external places, information or people could have a remote influence because they would be connected to the n-spaces thanks to new technology. Porous, an n-spaces opens or closes to other n-spaces according to previously defined parameters.
Instrumentation and inter-relationships
The instrument of environments opens its « playing » to a large number of actors, living or non-living things, connected or disconnected, material or immaterial. The nature of the instrument, its design, will guide the weaving, the orchestration of the actors with each other as well as with the place itself (12).
It will sometimes invent multidimensional mesh techniques, made possible in particular by new technologies in the era of n-spaces. Just as each living being is a world within the world (the biosphere, its associated environment), it has its own geometry and sometimes its own physical laws inside its body. Each building, as an instrument of environments, becomes a world in the world (the district, the city, the different digital spaces) with its rules, its intrinsic functioning, its relationships.
It generates its meshes, permanent or temporary; it defines its internal weaving (roots, rhizomes (13), plurals, etc.), its properties, its techniques and produces a hybrid “sphere of space” that is both physical and digital. This sphere is never autonomous (unless an exceptional effect is claimed – each rule contains its exception –) because the environment instrument acts on/with the environment. It is always an element, a tool which exchanges and is linked more or less intensely to the associated meta-environments, both the biosphere and the noosphere (14).
The manual & the score
Instrument of environments with multiple actors, the inhabitants as performer(s), even if well coordinated, are not skilled enough to produce a beautiful work. They need to learn how to play to better understand the subtleties of the architecture, and they need a score.
In order to correctly compose with the place, the architect must be didactic because, the inhabitants must know, at least in part, the instrument, its functioning and its resonances. The instructions for use are contained in a manual provided at reception of the building and taking part in a formula (15). It details the modus operandi, presents ways of playing, its specificities and describes the instrument, etc. declining a series of « instructions », a bit like for the use of a complex technical object.
Even if, as we have said, the faculty of openness is inherent in the instrument, the architecture can also integrate certain compositions pre conceived (sort of suggested or recommended scenarios) that the instrument will « play » alone or with help from the inhabitant… who could also invent others.
The environment will be nourished by a perpetual movement of actions-interactions. These compositions and their scores are inscribed or exist in the instrument itself. They are another statement of the formula. With both physical and digital characteristics (algorithms), each score is plural, it plays (16) (with) the place by reacting to the external actions of the augmented environment (including digital, inhabitants, living).
But the instrument can also accommodate improvisation (play without score) or even other writings. Created by users, possibly with the help of artificial intelligence, these compositions will then constitute new scores, complementary or alternative, with sensitive and functional purposes. They make the place “sing” (17)). They will enable, the recording of new learnings for the use of places, and for the new configurations. They will enrich the building, which will evolve over time, improving its uses, and performance (energy, reception, metamorphosis, etc.) and adapting its sensitive character by integrating new processes that are still unknown (18).
The induced atmosphere will vary according to function, intensifying the relationship between the building and its occupants, doubly free in the choice of the composition, pre-established or personal, then in its interpretation. Because as in music, each score must be able to continue to leave an important place to the performer, like for example Bach’s Goldberg variations reinterpreted by Glenn Gould 400 years after they were written.
* The instrumentower is a tower that acts as a visual and musical instrument, a source of various sensory events, more or less random, augmented by digital technology. It plays with the environments but it is also accessible to artists, musicians, researchers or creators so that they can take control of it and occasionally invent both compositions and uses, for example for atypical concerts at the city scale.
For the renovation of Notre-Dame de Paris and its spire, my answer would have been based on this project if a competition had taken place: an intervention on the existing where the visual would have been secondary. An instrument of environments, first musical, like an extension of the organ whose main challenge would have been to sing punctually in Paris, sometimes accompanied by the bells…* The sun museum in Helsinki, inspired by the reflections experimented on the Villa D, is an instrument which plays among other things with the rebounds of light. It extends the duration of sunshine on a place protected from the winds and open to the bay. It produces symphonies of light and heat which in winter transform the relief of the snowpack, melting parts of the snow and reshaping the ground in the square. * Wind-wing in Taichung is a complex including museum and library that plays with the air. A green concrete wall captures the prevailing winds and creates or transmits, after having produced energy, a breeze in the building cooling the place (in response to the subtropical and humid climate). On the garden side, a « wing » is set in motion by the winds, producing, under it, a kaleidoscope of shadow and light.
In my habitat too, I experiment, on a small scale, with architecture, an instrument of environments that plays with natural elements, and welcomes the surprises that invite themselves into the space: play of light, multiplication of images, views and viewpoints, mirrors that increase visibility, circulation of fluids, traces of the sun, reflections that waver with the wind, shadows (dis)ported, music of rain and breezes, hospitality of butterflies and birds, dynamic filters and various hazards, permanent and ephemeral traces, hidden spaces. The atmosphere “vibrates” according to events, both in short periods (a breeze, a spot of sun) and long periods (winter or summer sun). Time passes at different speeds.
I took a few examples among those designed, partly through these ideas, with Arkhenspaces, but there are others (the Pavilion on a field capturing and naturally storing rainwater, a Landscape for an urban highway, the villa La Sousta, etc.) and also by other architects: The Louvre of Abou Dabi by Jean Nouvel (even if I have not yet been able to experience it), the chapel or the thermal baths of Peter Zumthor, the brutalist churches of Gottfried Böhm, the Holy Chapel, the Alhambra, the amphitheater of Epidaurus, the Pantheon in Rome, but also in Mycenae, Petra, Angkor, etc.
On a smaller scale, the works of artists like Nicolas Schöffer with his cybernetic sculptures or more recently James Turrel with his luminous environments, also correspond to this idea of instrument.
Frank Ghery and Coop Himmelb(l)au produce more of a movement architecture (an architecture that changes according to the points of view of the observer) but with few instrument effects. Peter Zumthor and Jean Nouvel are generally more into the object (architecture designed from a block) but they produce environmental instruments in their own way. There are others of course, the list is not intended to be exhaustive. Le Corbusier with the chapel of Ronchamp succeeds perfectly in combining the two, it is very rare. A masterpiece !
Considering ar(t)chitecture as an instrument of environments opens up new fields of design in which the architect conceives a place of potential vibrations, activatable, endowed with resonances and capable of surprising. An open space-tool, which fertilizes the environment. It welcomes the inhabitants-users and the living things around, without knowing them. It (dis)orients them, sometimes letting them take part in the composition, and/or interpretation, reaction. It touches them. If they wish, the inhabitants thus pass easily from the status of simple occupant to that of an actor in their environment.
Architecture becomes for them a vector, a way to establish a more intimate relationship with places.
In extension, architecture, as an instrument of environments, has an active role in weaving both internal and external inter-relations, that is to say in the habitability of the place but also of the city, the world, and of their thoughts.
Today augmented by digital, the instrument is deployed in new dimensions. The perspectives and effects are multiplied, the n-spaces increases the environment by the sophistication of the mesh. It multiplies the spheres of action, the subtleties and the events. Its “structure” provides tools to enrich an open, unfinished work of art and leads architectural art to new dimensions.
Clever, active, ecological, sensitive, efficient and mysterious, buildings take shape likes book to be read, giving body to material environments and interacting with other physical and virtual environments. Creating them will bring out new surprises, emotions, stimulations, new uses, new sharing, new compositions, new thoughts… New dreams will also appear.
Eric Cassar 2020-2021
(1) Ar(t)chitecture highlights the artistic dimension of architecture, going on the (t) disappears, this does not mean that architecture has lost its artistic dimension but rather that it founds it. Sometimes it will reappear to remind that this dimension is still there.
(2) See the tracking of wolves in Manières d’être vivant, Baptiste Morizot
(3) “The instrument is the technical object which makes it possible to extend and adapt the body to obtain a better perception; the instrument is a tool of perception”. Du mode d’existence des objets techniques, Gilbert Simondon
(4) “To paint not the thing but its effect”, Stephane Mallarme
(5) Movement architecture, Eric Cassar
(6) See the works of Gilbert Simondon and Bernard Stiegler ( http://arsindustrialis.org/individuation)
(7) “We build buildings which then build us”, Winston Churchill
(8) From Yves Klein and the architecture of air, in which the connotation was positive: recreating the “Eden”, to the proliferation of controlled environments decried by Rem Koolhass in Junkspaces.
(9) The inhabitant of a place is not only that of a habitat. He is here the one who manages the place, maintains it, takes care of it, whether for himself or for others. The one who regularly lives in a museum, who works there as the caretaker, the “conductor” or the manager of the space, the one who is in charge of its proper functioning.
(10) See Living in infinity, Working in c(h)oeur and more generally active building, Eric Cassar, Arkhenspaces
(11) See the “Degree of Life” defined by the architect Christopher Alexander in The phenomenon of life
(12) From « The trace field to the song of traces », Eric Cassar
(13) Mille plateaux, Felix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze
(14) See the works of Vladimir Vernadsky. The biosphere is the physical space occupied by life. The noosphere is the space of thought.
(15) This concept of formula will be described in the 3rd part of this triptych through the text « A tout lieu sa formule »
(16) From the trace field to the song of traces, Eric Cassar
(17) “Tell me, did you not observe while walking in this city, that among the buildings with which it is populated, some are silent; the others speak; and finally others who are the rarest, sing? » Eupalinos or the architect, Paul Valéry
(18) A metaphor with the computer (the building) and the interchangeable software it hosts (the partitions) seems interesting but also reductive because computers are not very different one from each other, whereas we underline here the necessary wide variety of instrument (building) typologies.