A New Economy in Construction

Transcript of panel lecture presented by Tristan d'Estree Sterk at the Economist Magazine's Intelligent Infrastructure Conference, NYC 2011

Economist: "Tristan d'Estree Sterk is the founding partner of The Office for Robotic Architectural Media & The Bureau for Responsive Architecture, his work has appeared in exhibitions around the world but he himself is based in Chicago, and he teaches at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. Please welcome Tristan.

TS: "The scene has been set for change. Politically, our governments are realizing that the future success of our societies depend upon finding more sympathetic alignments between the actions of people and the environments that support us, while economically shifts have also taken place that enable us to understand, more comprehensively than ever before, the impact that our actions have. It should be said that these shifts are quite wonderful but fundamentally what needs to happen is that our infrastructures and our buildings need to become more responsive to the environment and to the actions of people.

We practice in a time when the political systems the economic systems and construction systems that make up our world are enabling quite a radical shift to take place.

When you look at the possible savings offered by responsive systems some significant savings can be made. Close to 3000 trillion BTU can be saved in the United States alone if we can produce an architecture that can respond to local conditions and change the way in which we heat and cool buildings, these figures are provided from a study from the Department of Energy when looking at just heating and cooling costs alone. When we take these rather large numbers and start to break them down to understand how responsive systems in just the residential environment can produce savings across the country in several different climate zones we can see that there are some very significant savings on the table in the order of 30% in most locations. So what might this look like? What might an architecture that can produce these types of savings and change the way in which we align our societies and our buildings and structures with nature look like? This is the question?

This is a diagram of a section of a prototype house designed for Chicago it's a small house but it reflects the savings that were previously shown in order 30 % and it requires systems that change color (change the color of skins) change a degree of insulation offered and also change shape. If you look at how responsive systems can be broken down offer savings color can provide smaller savings in the order of 2% permeability (openings and closings) can provide around 8% and shape change of buildings can provide in order of 25 to 30%. So shape changed,it's a kinda strange idea what might this mean? Well many many many years ago a sculpture called Kenneth Snelson produced Tensegrity Structures. Snelson's work was understood by Buckminster Fuller who formalized theories of Tensegrity Structures in the '50s and '60s. Shape change builds upon Fuller's understanding of tensegrity structures to produce a new type of structure called an actuated tensegrity structure. From left to right you can see different types or different ways of arranging these structures to produce different basic forms of buildings and we use these to produce prototypes of small-scale and larger scale, these are experimental prototypes and this is a full-scale prototype for an actuated envelope system for building that can change shape. Different configurations have different aesthetics, have different degrees of performance - this is a smaller prototype.

When you look at the types of houses or the types of buildings that one might produce and how they might look and feel how people might occupy them how people might start to align themselves more differently with the natural environment you might end up with something that looks like this. Soft shell that can change color, can generally change shape, that have an optimized thermal mass, but that are very light-weight.

And all of this is achievable if we take a different view of what architecture might be. We are no longer thinking about buildings as static creations that are built of dumb material, these are systems that rely on control and sensor input and actuators.

So as an example, there should be film coming up now, I would like to quickly show you a prototype here's a prototype, a very early prototype, for a structural system that changes shape this first films shows uniform rise and uniform collapse. This is the same prototype taken from a different angle. These models use thermal memory alloys and electronics. They can also lean in different directions. By controlling the lien we can cater to heliotropism and have buildings follow the sun or change in relation to wind patterns and change the way they can be naturally ventilated. And then a second very quick final film: small buildings are one thing but we also must think about how density and be enabled by the systems this is a film of a prototype for an exoskeletal portion of the skyscraper this is not proposing that the skyscraper moves exactly this type of way (laughter) but if you would like to dance with a building this might be one of those types of buildings ... And on this note that note I'll finish. Thank you.

Lecture Video: The Economist Magazine Intelligent Infrastructure Conference, NYC, 2011
>> Tristan Sterk "The New Economy of Construction"

Panel Video: The Economist Magazine Intelligent Infrastructure Conference, NYC, 2011
>> Thom Mayne, Liz Diller, Tristan Sterk, Ken Yeang, Peter Cox