A prototype (in Greek πρωτότυπο: πρώτο=first, τύπος=type) is the first of its kind, something that is designed in order for copies to be modelled after it. Hence it is rather obvious that prototyping is a creative but also a very ambitious business too. In this exhibition of architectural prototypes at the Building Centre what I found most interesting was that creativity does not only characterise artists. Engineers, inventors and researchers are creative in a way that at times puts artists to shame. The exhibits also prove that structural parts and building methods that emerge as solutions to particular problems on building sites, or are invented in order to reduce cost and save energy can produce truly innovative forms too.
I am almost positive that designers were involved in the aesthetic refinement of the actual products. However what I observed and to my opinion makes the exhibits exceptional is that aesthetic is not always the goal but emerges almost as a by-product. What is on the foreground is scientific experimentation
Successful design is often ergonomic and highly practical. After all people have always been attracted to this sort of innovation, the kind that makes their life easier and simultaneously introduces a change in what they have been taking for granted in their environment. This is what actually attracts crowds to World fairs and design-award exhibitions, anything that is fresh, unexpected but also practical.
All of the prototypes on display are innovative, however some of them are more experimental and less practical than others which ultimately renders them rather decorative.
Like the Protocell mesh1 that was created as a university project and is a strange collaboration of a scaffolding meshwork canopy that incorporates carbon-capturing air-filters. The timber wave structure2 that was built to ornament the entrance of V&A museum for 2011 London Design week similarly was not created to solve some practical problem but was very impressive nonetheless. It is an exercise on how to create a 3d timber structure with non- symmetrical parts. Similarly the ‘Bones’ tubes3 were designed to embellish architectural façades while shading them.
However there are exhibits that might not catch the visitor’s eye immediately as they seem more technical and not that impressive design-wise, like for example ‘Autarki 1:1’4 or the Loblolly house5 where actual sections of each house have been brought to London and are included in the exhibition. When one looks closer into them, ‘Autarki’ is a unique experiment on totally self-sustainable house design and the Loblolly house is a building system where all components are organised off-site and are then bolted together so they can be taken apart and reused as parts in case the house is demolished. The house is also energy efficient.
The ‘Fabric formwork’6 is also relatively unimpressive at first glance but completely revolutionary as an invention. Being able to use a fabric to mould concrete might be responsible for the production of truly innovative architectural forms.
Then there are the ‘sci-fi’ exhibits like the organic-looking titanium structural components with futuristic names like Nematox II7 or the additive manufactured violin8.Those are interesting mostly because of the additive manufactured technology which in other words is 3D printing.
Finally there are products that fall into the middle of the pragmatic/science-fiction spectrum and their complexity refers to the assembly method of ordinary parts. For example Trada pavilion9 where everyday ‘boring’ materials like flat timber panels and hinges are put together following an algorithm to produce a stiff free-standing structure. Also Zoid10 which is a stool that is computer-generated product of parametric design that is made from a single sheet of metal which can be folded by hand following the prototyped drawing. Fab pod11 is a system of hyperboloid surfaces that has been developed in order to improve sound-pollution in open plan offices.
Last but most definitely not least, the exhibition includes a 130 year old structural problem that has puzzled many engineers: Gaudi’s Sagrada Famillia that was left unfinished because of the architect’s untimely death. Modelling and interpretation of the church has restarted since the digital era and research regardless of the problems faced due to lack of an original study-model, seems much more promising lately.
To conclude, I do recommend the Prototyping Architecture exhibition which will be on until the 15th of March.
2.By Amande Levete Architects AL_A website here
3.By Barkow Leibinger website here
6.By Anne-Marie Manelius read more about it here
7.By Holger Strauss at Delf Technical University read more about additive manufacturing here
8.Researched by Manufacturing Research Division, Faculty of Engineering, University of
Nottingham. Read more about it here
10.By Yves Ebnöther. Find it at his website here
11.By Sial, Royal Melbourne institute of Technology. Find it here
12.By Antoni Gaudi and continuing research by Mark Burry. Read about his research here