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Living Glass and River Glow: Developing Responsive Architecture
Sarah Rich, 13 Jun 07

David Benjamin and Soo-in Yang are both architects, but to call their company, Living, an architecture firm doesn't come anywhere near to explaining what they do. Benjamin and Yang create what they call "open source, incremental, small-scale architecture that engages the city." They fuse science, technology, engineering and interactivity, "defining responsive kinetic architecture to involve input, processing and output." Their work is as much R&D as structural design.

A couple of weeks ago at Postopolis, a New York exhibition and conference on architecture, urbanism, landscape and design (of which our teammate Geoff Manaugh was an organizer), the pair presented two of their projects, Living Glass and River Glow, which utilize responsive technologies as a means of revealing the presence of CO2 and water pollutants, respectively. They categorize both as "Flash Research":

An architectural project that involves:

1. A budget under $1000
2. A duration of less than three months
3. Proof-of-concept through the creation of a full-scale functioning prototype

Living Glass involves a reactive, transparent surface with an infrared sensor and gills that open and shut as they detect the presence of humans and control air quality in a room.

With minor changes, the system could be tuned for environmental control, detecting carbon dioxide in a room and in multiple grapefruit-sized zones, and "breathing" when levels are high. Here, movement promotes health by allowing air flow when needed, and it provides information by signaling a high carbon dioxide level, which is normally invisible.

(On their site, you can watch Worldchanging writer Blaine Brownell presenting Living Glass at PopTech.)

River Glow uses pH sensors, LEDs and thin film photovoltaics in a device that hangs in a canal or other public body of water and senses the quality of the water, indicating the results with colored lights.

In New York City, as in most of the world, there is currently no public interface with water quality. How can we tell if the water is cleaner this year than last? How do we know if it is safe to swim? Or eat the fish?

River Glow has been through multiple iterations, the most recent developed for Copenhagen's Innovation Lab. Much like Natalie Jeremijenko's Feral Robot Dogs and Sabrina Raaf's Translator II, these projects make visible the invisible, a strategy we frequently discuss when looking at transparency both in and through design. Benjamin and Yang in fact co-authored an article based on this premise, which discusses transparency versus efficiency (among other things) in using glass as an architectural material.

The last of Living's three Flash Research projects involves an investigation of computer-based fabrication as a means of facilitating connections between "'good' architects and real estate developers," which taps another key Worldchanging approach -- dematerialization -- enabling efficient, zero-waste and improved design and construction.

Benjamin and Yang's website contains many pages of technical description and imagery of each step in their prototyping process, and below is a short YouTube video from their Postopolis appearance, courtesy of Inhabitat. It's worth checking out the deeper layers of their work; it's an encouraging indication of the progress of innovation and the existence of real, practical tools for transparency and dematerialization.

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fantastic stuff. Thank you sarah and living.
achitecture and context as a two-way conversation. excellent.

Posted by: andrew on 15 Jun 07



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