The Architectural Biennale 2018 is titled FREESPACE. The international exhibition explores the essential qualities of architecture, including materiality, modulation of the space, how it influences movement and emotions of its users, revelling the embodied power and beauty of architecture.
The Croatian pavilion, located in the Arsenale, is called Cloud Pergola – the architecture of hospitality. It is a collaborative site-specific installation crossing the boundaries of Architecture through collaborations in Art, Engineering, Robotic Fabrication, and Computational Models.
The exhibition is structured through an interplay of three interventions: Cloud Drawing by Alisa Andrašek in collaboration with Bruno Juričić, To Still the Eye by Vlatka Horvat, and Ephemeral Garden by Maja Kuzmanović.
Bruno Juričić, the curator, took the exhibition as an opportunity to express that we are at a new moment in architecture, when technology not only affects novel physical objects, but also new extensions and cross-collaborations. In recognising the active participation of nonhuman forces in events and understanding that the agency of space spawns beyond human, it propels the need to create a “space of hospitality” for new complicities, new complex ecologies of human and non-human assemblages, algorithms, data structures. In such “landspace” the role of boundaries, either physical or non-physical, is not any more to enclose space, but rather to form tissue for osmotic exchange. This enriching influence is broadening the range available to architecture of materials, formal values, artistic references and social engagements. As such, provides a new ground for addressing the notion of “design ecology” in the twenty first century.
The Cloud Drawing installation by architects Alisa Andrašek and Bruno Juričić uses computational models, robot fabrication and big data, as mediums to create a new kind of spatial structure—an n-dimensional microstructure that brings into dynamic relation natural forces and human intervention.
We had a pleasure to talk with Alisa Andrašek, creator of the Cloud Drawing installation. For the past two decades Alisa has been researching how we work with complex systems in the context of built environment, using new resources like big data. She believes this should change how we construct the environment we live in and has been looking into algorithms, artificial intelligence and robotic construction like carbo fibre structures and as in the case of Croatian pavilion, 3D printing. The following conversation is slightly edited for clarity.
“There was an article in The Economist (17th Aug 2017) stating the construction industry is the least efficient in the world. If we look at how the buildings are constructed today, while there are small improvements in some systems, the fundamentals have been here for over 100 years. Despite the evolving science, new understanding of the world, of matter, robotics, machines and technology, I don’t really see very prominent kind of change – so this (the Croatian pavilion, note by the writer) was mainly to question how we build.”
The bio-degradable plastic structure weighs around 280kg, which makes it the lightest structure built at this scale – 3.3m tall, covering an area of ~58m². It is light, yet strong, its three columns swirling in counter directions reinforcing its structure.
“In 3D printing, in theory, you can control every speck of dust – where you put matter, what kind of matter. We can design using computational physics, simulating not just compression and tension but also other physics in structures like friction, viscosity.
However, for this year’s Croatian pavilion, we were very constrained with time and had to work with a certain maximum number of cells. Therefore, I decided to use a different algorithm which is coming from biology. This year’s Croatian pavilion is taking an organisation of a swarm that you find in a school of fish or a flock birds. Observing how these organisms self-organise and swirl governed the arrangement of strands in the structure. ”
To the question why she thinks change is very slow in construction industry Alisa replied:
“I think the construction industry is used to doing things in a certain way. I often talk about high resolution, how we connect micro resolution of material science to macro resolution of very large systems, whether they are buildings or large landscape or cityscape system. With big data we can now actually connect these different orders of scale directly – but I am unsure, how much the structural industry is currently using this. I believe more could be done if we bring more science into it.”
She continued to expand on the topic of sustainability and our duty to the planet to build efficiently:
“Our planet is in a lot of trouble and we need to take it seriously. Imagine, if you could build very large spanning roof structures that are 10x lighter, yet equally strong – it is significant. Current buildings are at least 10-times heavier than they could have been if you look at the laws of physics. Certain natural systems we see are built with less matter but more information to give much higher performance.”
However, Alisa said she is seeing a response, a gradual implementation of ideas – a progress since her research started. First to respond and understand her goals were artists and scientists.
“Architects were resistant, but young generation of architects is really on board.”
Moving to Melbourne shifted her focus towards the industry to use the knowledge she has gathered and drive the progress through application.
The structural realisation of the pavilion was led by Arup, the globally renowned engineering consultancy. Henry Unterreiner and Peter Lenk worked closely with Bruno and Alisa in order to realise their vision. The main responsibility was to engineer the pavilion and guide the design process of it given the tight time constraints for design and 3D printing. In addition, Arup contributed by organising workshops, gathering all the different parties spread around the world and helped with the assembly of the fragile pieces on site in Venice.
According to Henry the most challenging part of the design was dealing with the large number of elements (~200,000) in the 3D structure, on top of current limitations of the material and printing process. In order to understand the load path through the lattice structure, the team developed/scripted their own tools. Peter Lenk added:
“Simple rules of thumb were derived following first principles, prototype testing and FE analysis undertaken and subsequently given to the architects to inform their geometry. We were able to create digital space based on mathematical principles and transform it from the virtual space to our material world with reduced human intervention.”
Standing underneath the light structure gives a feeling of movement and flow, of a space that is not confined or suffocating. The perforated and swirly structure creates an experience through a game of shades and shape, making the space feel alive.
Words and Pictures by Eva Babič