Kinetic Digitally-Driven Architectural Structures as ‘Marginal’ Objects – a Conceptual Framework

Sokratis Yiannoudes


Although the most important reasons for designing digitally-driven kinetic architectural structures seem to be practical ones, namely functional flexibility and adaptation to changing conditions and needs, this paper argues that there is possibly an additional socio-cultural aspect driving their design and construction. Through this argument, the paper attempts to debate their status and question their concepts and practices.

Looking at the design explorations and discourses of real or visionary technologically-augmented architecture since the 1960s, one cannot fail to notice the use of biological metaphors and concepts to describe them – an attempt to ‘naturalise’ them which culminates today in the conception of kinetic structures and intelligent environments as literally ‘alive’. Examining these attitudes in contemporary examples, the paper demonstrates that digitally-driven kinetic structures can be conceived as artificial ‘living’ machines that undermine the boundary between the natural and the artificial. It argues that by ‘humanising’ these structures, attributing biological characteristics such as self-initiated motion, intelligence and reactivity, their designers are ‘trying’ to subvert and blur the human-machine (-architecture) discontinuity.

The argument is developed by building a conceptual framework which is based on evidence from the social studies of science and technology, in particular their critique in modern nature-culture and human-machine distinctions, as well as the history and theory of artificial life which discuss the cultural significance and sociology of ‘living’ objects. In particular, the paper looks into the techno-scientific discourses and practices which, since the 18th century, have been exploring the creation of ‘marginal’ objects, i.e. seemingly alive objects made to challenge the nature-artifice boundary.

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