Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sliding Assumptions

Photo: Aroid

My colleagues and I have been giving a lot of presentations this semester. New developments in our visual languages meant to manifest complex data comparisons in an easily digestible format is required on a weekly basis, as is the compilation, generation, and interpretation of that data. Often presentation happens via projection from a laptop, usually of digitally created graphics. Lately however we have been drawing with Sharpies and grease pencils on 11 x 17 pieces of printer paper.

The result of this has been a large pixelated array of doodles on our studio wall that is eventually a step back to either a more polished projected presentation or some kind of book. It's been a little tough, the digital has infected us enormously. So much so, in fact, that those pieces of paper are repeatedly referred to by many of us as "slides".

It is hilarious to refer to a piece of paper as a slide. This word transformation comes from PowerPoint (aka PDF in our case) via the ubiquitous mid-century slide projector, which is a technological extension of the earlier magic lantern that Wikipedia pegs to the 17th century. So an outmoded technology of sliding a physical transparency in front of a light source gives us terminology that fits gracefully into the newest digital tools that become so habituated as to stand in now even for the ancient technology of paper.

It's worth noting these linguistic transformations as we chart the field of architecture into new territory. The most exciting digital technology will still be pegged to less complex precursors. This becomes very important to remember when using things like CAD drawings and energy modeling software to propose architectural systems which produce and run on non-concentrated energy most beautifully typified by Nature. One goal of our work this semester is to consider how high technology can concentrate passive energy flows to sustain our cultural speed without polluting the ecosystem. Assumptions are important. So when paper becomes a slide we know we're forging ahead with gusto.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Shape of Sunlight's Heavy Lifting

I had the pleasure last week of helping my CASE colleagues prepare and transfer a prototype of the Integrated Concentrated (IC) Solar Facade system to the Syracuse Center of Excellence which officially opened on Friday. The machine is aesthetically and scientifically striking. Solar radiation is focused through a tracking Fresnel lens onto a PV cell, combined with a water flow heat sink. The energy effect is the generation of accessible electricity and hot water; the visual effect is both a focusing and a diffusing of sunlight combined with a pattern of dissolved inverted imagery through the lensed pyramids alternating with a simple view through the window. 

IC Solar is envisioned as an integrated building component. As such the value judgements about energy use are worn boldly in view. Cultural statements about our relationship with fuel combined with workable approaches will be part of our generation's architectural heritage. As we use technology in attempts to deal with environmental problems created by technology, the visual element will be a constructive tool in stoking the polemic.

Sunlight feels so clean but concentrating it is still a grimy business. For me, the heavy lifting was a welcome change from sitting in front of a computer every day, and the afternoons spent wielding solder guns and screw drivers were satisfying. It was amusing after my recent amateur electronics kick to be handed an LED display to put together, and driving a 20 foot Ryder truck through winding mountain roads in the middle of the night with precious cargo is a thrill despite the exhaustion and discomfort. This project has been many years in the making and I can only claim three days of wrapping up loose ends on the current version, but it's inspiring to see something so complex take real shape.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Roy G. Biv

The new Center for Excellence in Syracuse spares no opportunity to express that it is "green". It officially opens this afternoon. During prototype set up phase--I was there on installation duty for something I'm not allowed to write about before its officially unveiled at 2pm but will tell you about later--that greenness felt freshest before all the partnership logos went up. Features like lights in the bathroom that turn on when you enter the stall were not activated yet in the morning, but were in the afternoon. Likewise for the automatic flush. Interior finishes, bare concrete floor aside, are all either white, which is gorgeous except for the tops of the exposed ductwork will always be dusty; and green, which is gorgeous except when it is reflecting in perfect daylighting off human flesh tones.

It turns out that scientifically, green is the wavelength that looks brightest on the Commission Internationale de l'Eclarirage (CIE)'s famous chart of visual perception. Thus the brightest walks softest on the earth. Green is smack dab in the center of the visible spectrum. It's a word that can sound trite with repetition in popular design culture that nonetheless has a phenomenological spine.