Voltera @ The Living Architecture Systems Group: Electronics Made Beautiful


To call a discipline like architecture
“living” is a rather precocious thing. How on earth would we make something
which is artificial into something which we could associate with the world of nature
in the world of life? What we do is we work in quite practical
steps which are intensely bound in craft. We start with scaffolds and we make them
resilient. We make them things that can be woven in to computation. Multiple
meshes of microprocessors control and feedback, with arrays of sensors and
mechanisms — actuators — and all of those things together also work with liquid
metabolisms as well, taking chemicals that can modify the environment and
exchange. All of those technical systems, then, are woven together in a way that is
deeply empathetic — that depends on human experience — and that fosters
conversations back and forth. And so, in the end, while the work is
intensely technical it also is founded on a kind of philosophy where we’re seeking
mutual relationships with the world. Being among, being interdependent, even
being unapologetically fragile rather than trying to command
and control and govern. Today, one of the dimensions we’re working
on focuses very specifically on integrating electronics with the structural systems
that I’ve been describing, the kind of resilient scaffolds. A rather traditional
relationship of electronic controls with structures is that of a cluster — let’s
say the same kind of thing that we have in our cranium separate from our body. What about if instead of those kind of consolidated, powerful groups of controls,
we could think of a kind of environment as having a whole mesh work; where many,
many different nodes are all speaking to each other? We’ve started to look at the
way nature works in wetlands, or the way deep filaments intertwine in a mycelium —
that is, a mushroom root network. And that translates into a wish to find
a new kind of electronics. Rather than concentrated printed control boards,
we’re looking for ways to take very small, gentle elements and distribute
them. And so, we might have rather than moving from these rather modest micro
processors, we’re very interested in moving with increasing
miniaturization into elements that can be directly integrated
into mechanisms, and so we’re quite excited about the possibility — this is
just a prototype board that we’ve just developed — about integrating some
quite meticulous detailing into the board itself. Elective circuitry that we can
quickly go through multiple prototypes with and then, at the same, time look at
the kind of strain relief or the clipping or the cable mounting; perhaps
even going into soft substrates so that this then could move and shift. Try to
find things that are finger friendly, that we can participate in and work with,
but at the same time be radically dispersed. For many years we’ve made our
own boards by designing them and sending them out, we’ve also worked with muriatic
acid, and Garolite and burning traces in, and we’ve worked with bread
boards. But what we haven’t been able to do is directly find the kind of cycling —
day-to-day, hour-to-hour — that would be possible with a fabrication machine. And
so this ability to work now with some custom making of boards, directly inter-
woven, this is a tremendously motivating space. It’s been a dream, and it hasn’t
been available to us until just this year in a new partnership with Voltera.

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