Managing Uncertainty and the Recursive Handrail.
An editor is about a process of managing uncertainty – the ‘in’, ‘off’ and ‘by’ spaces of design. The blurred edges of a project are not redefined through a computer screen, but rather through a vast web of relationships. Think of the editor as the progenitor of classification systems in proto-methods of construction – recognizing the importance in designing the connections between manual, digital and biological systems. This relationship is dynamic, like buildings, in that it is constantly being refined and reshaped by the environment and participants. An editor negotiates the dynamic relationship between context and design. More than any other artefact, buildings improve with time, if they are allowed to. Architecture can become the editor of environments through the reader – operating as a designer in the manner of a refined intuitionism. The idea is that you will design tools for the determining effects of interaction between working drawing, participant and environment. If the environment is the editor of architecture and not the architect, then the participant is the reader.
Drawing forth the idea of working drawing becoming embedded ‘within’ environment, we can begin to describe the event before the architecture as architecture. Through a sequence of prompts such as palette, intervene, scope, projection, translation, coherence and construct, the editor can enable communication.
The sequence or combination of each prompt would enable an infinite sequence of spatial notations that could be edited for particular types of communication – a reflex for future architectures playing as a response to whatever has already occurred, or is now occurring. Design is set in motion as a function of what is anticipated or probable – pre-emptive in natural environments. In a sense, managing uncertainty comes before the changes in the environment, whereas the architecture comes after the changes to the environment and effectively responds to dynamics of participants and environments. The idea is that the reader should handle exogenous events as well as uncertain effects and unknown initial conditions – to provide a reflex in the prompts for every possible situation that may be encountered, whether or not the circumstances that would lead to it can be envisaged. A prototype model can be seen in the recursive handrail.
Recursion is used to describe the relationship between objects, and the object defined is being defined within its own definition. The term is also used more generally to describe a process of repeating objects in a self-similar way. Broadly speaking, recursion concerns the way in which events continually enter into, become entangled with, and then re-enter the universe they describe. The recursive handrail was developed for use with the Building Energy Management System in the Portland Square building at the University of Plymouth. The concept for the handrail is about the recursion of form with a real-time feed from the temperature sensors in the building. To achieve this, an existing handrail in Atrium B of the Portland Square building was chosen as the site for the Recursive handrail. There are six smart temperature sensors around the existing handrail. The real-time temperature feed is used to assimilate slivers of the recursive handrail. As a section of the new handrail is constructed, this new handrail replaces the existing section of the handrail. Each day, from dawn until dusk, data are collated and a unique form for the section of the handrail is defined. From dusk until dawn, one new section of the handrail is printed using a rapid prototyping machine. Thus, each day the handrail evolves in its shape. The new section of the handrail has a smart heating element placed inside its centre. The temperature from the handrail is linked to the amount of public traffic in the building – i.e. if there are many people walking up the Atrium B staircase, the temperature will be low, or if there is very little public traffic the temperature will be high. The heat produced affects the readings on the smart sensors, and thus the participant in the space becomes involved in the relationship of defining the shape of the handrail through the relationship with the building. In effect, the participant is slowly adapting and augmenting the building through occupation. The handrail is thus composed of participant actions; it is recursive over its various boundaries. If the participant of the building feels cold, the handrail can be set according to his or her specific bodily threshold of ‘coldness’. This change in ‘state of bias’ determines an event in a subsystem. A switch goes on or off in the handrail, and this event then changes a setting on the handrail and the handrail switch goes on or off. The participant, who belongs to an even larger system, may also sense the difference between the building temperature and the weather outside through the form and temperature of the handrail. There are multiple feedback loops. One feedback loop simply returns the change in temperature to the bias of the handrail in the subsystem. In this event the switch will either go on or off in the handrail. The subsystem will continue in a self-maintaining oscillation, for when a rise in temperature of the building creates fluctuations, these are held between thresholds or existing limits set on the handrail.
As the focus of architecture moves from a system of relationships based on objects towards a system based on distributed environmental systems, we also must find the importance in developing an architecture a priori to building - at the pre-planning stage in the development of the site of construction, the architecture before the architecture.