IX.4 July 2002
Page: 22
Digital Citation

Internet and architecture



My presentation at the conference was a response to the
  Invade (see previous article) challenge and addressed the
  following question: What happens when our everyday
  surroundings become invaded by information networks?


Figure. SwisShouse: Bird’s eye




I presented two propositions. First, architecture can
  protect everyday citizens from the invasion of information
  networks: consider the sheer physical mass and inertia of
  physical architecture as a natural shield against unwanted,
  intrusive information invasion. Second, in a future where it
  is inevitable that information will be ubiquitous, the
  possible new role of architecture will be to act as a large
  human-computer interface to consciously filter information
  and provide citizens with access to the right information, in
  the right place, at the right time: architecture as subtle
  enabler of meaningful information invasion. These are not two
  mutually exclusive propositions. Rather, the challenge for
  future designers will be to effectively merge the two


Internet and Architecture


Internet and Architecture (I+A) is a research and teaching
  program that I started in 1998 at the Harvard Graduate School
  of Design; the purpose of the program is to study the
  possibilities that lie in the convergence of physical and
  information architecture. I+A focuses on two tightly
  interconnected topics: (1) information architecture: the
  application of such architectural concepts as spatial
  configuration, proportional systems, circulation, scale, and
  texture to the design of Internet space, and (2) architecture
  as human-computer interface: examining the possibility of
  physical architecture and architectural elements, such as
  walls, ceilings, floors, doors, and furniture to act as
  elements of connectivity and mediate between the information
  world and everyday physical activity. In many ways the I+A
  addresses the problems of information invasion.


The underlying premise for I+A is that the Internet will
  profoundly change how we perform our basic everyday
  activities, such as how we work, learn, shop, play, trade,
  meet, pray, entertain, punish, amuse, and, accordingly,
  transform the environments in which these activities were
  traditionally performed. Projects in I+A, therefore, start
  with an analysis of everyday verbs and use verb analysis as a
  basis to critically rethink existing architectural
  typologies. Internet-related concepts, such as
  decentralization, decoupling of bodies and identities,
  peer-to-peer and real-time systems, are discussed within the
  context of the verbs. I see understanding the changing
  practice of everyday activities as a good foundation for
  rethinking existing architectural stereotypes.


In the past four years, we have analyzed seven verbs every
  year and developed design projects for each of the verbs.
  Currently we have a repository of 28 verbs and approximately
  150 proposals for new physical/virtual architectures. Sample
  projects include LEARN, an airport seating lounge for
  language learning; EXPERIENCE, a subway station in Madrid for
  experiencing the Olympic Games of 2008; CONSPIRE, a
  physical/virtual work space that encourages people to share
  new ideas; and ENTICE, a redesign of Amsterdam’s red-light
  district to enable alternative forms of seduction.


Figure. SwisShouse: Usage Scenarios




I have always been interested in realizing some of the
  concepts related to the intersection of the Internet and
  architecture and testing them in real life. An opportunity
  came with the Swisshouse project in 1999, and, in partnership
  with Muriel Waldvogel, an architect and specialist in the
  senses of perception, we created the design firm Convergeo.
  Convergeo specializes in the design of convergent physical
  and digital environments. We design and build real projects
  to meet the pragmatic needs of real clients, and we see each
  project also as a research vehicle. We believe that the
  building of real architectures in real life is important
  because it offers the best (and perhaps only) possibility to
  study the effect of new technologies in everyday


Case Study: Swisshouse


(with Muriel Waldvogel)


Our first project at Convergeo has been the Swisshouse, a
  consulate for the Swiss Confederation, located in Cambridge,
  Mass. The Swisshouse is a large 3,200-square-foot wired
  loft—a building-size human-computer
  interface—designed to facilitate a new kind of
  diplomacy centered on knowledge exchange and the creation of
  both local and virtual communities. The project began as a
  donation by Lombard Odier & Cie., a Swiss private bank,
  to the Swiss Confederation to mark the bank’s 200th
  anniversary. It serves as a prototype for convergent
  architecture and testbed for our ideas.


We began the project by decomposing the function of the
  Swisshouse into its component activities (verb scenarios) and
  deciding which activities should be performed virtually and
  which physically. We wanted to use converging physical and
  virtual technologies to provide a platform that would let
  Swiss people connect to events and activities in Boston
  related to research and education. We also wanted to give Web
  users awareness of people in the physical consulate and vice
  versa. We developed links between the virtual and physical
  aspects of the consulate using Webcams, presence indicators,
  and various other interfaces. For example, visitors are
  registered as they physically enter the Swisshouse or log on
  to its Web site. A 9-foot-by-12-foot "guestbook"
  wall made of glass defines the entrance area; it displays
  names and icons representing both types of visitors and is
  accessible as a Web page.


Our efforts to establish a balance between flexibility and
  coherence led to the development of the building nervous
  system. We structured the spaces around a single database and
  a wireless audiovisual control system, both of which help
  personalize spaces to the activities and needs of the various
  groups using the consulate.


Finally, we choreographed connectivity in the physical
  space by integrating several different types of interfaces
  with the architecture, including room-size digital wall
  projections, audio systems, and large plasma displays. A key
  consideration was the subtle incorporation of communication
  technologies into the aesthetic of the space. We posed and
  explored a series of questions. For example, how could we use
  embedded communication technologies to improve the connection
  between the Swisshouse and the home country beyond mere
  functionality and facilitate more subtle and poetic ranges of
  remote human interactions, such as chance encounters, hearing
  a familiar dialect of a hometown, and awareness of a distant
  cultural presence? These and other questions informed the
  design of the elements of connectivity from the


Through the integration of connected architectural
  elements, the Swisshouse is fulfilling an important mission
  of the current Swiss government: "reverse brain
  drain," that is, bring back to Switzerland the knowledge
  of Swiss scientists and researchers in the United States. As
  a large human–computer interface for knowledge
  exchange, the Swisshouse acts as a physical portal or gateway
  for "virtually" transferring back to Switzerland
  the knowledge of Swiss scientists and researchers.

Jeffrey Huang

  Associate Professor in Architecture

  Digital Media and Information Technology

  Harvard UniversityGraduate School of Design

  48 Quincy Street

  Cambridge, MA 02138


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Figure. SwisShouse: Bird’s eye


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Figure. SwisShouse: Usage

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