Through time, architecture evolves to better meet human need by adapting
with cultural shifts. Architectural evolution does not relentlessly pursue
fixed standards. Instead, it adapts for cultural significance – and for
this process, interpretation is key. Interpretation helps architecture
to mediate and align cultural innovation with cultural need. To accomplish
this, architectural evolution depends on design, function and interpretation.
Optimizing architecture can be quite challenging as innovations that
advance lifestyle in certain ways can also set-back lifestyle in others.
For example, in the 21st century advanced technologies frequently alleviate
functional needs; yet, they also contribute to less humane environments.
This is evident today as countless healthcare environments hinder the
patient healing process due largely to poor technological integration.
Therefore, as culture strives to improve healing methods, architecture
should evolve to guide innovation and minimize set-back. Architecture
should evolve not only to assimilate cultural shifts but simultaneously
to improve lifestyles for humanity. For this reason, optimization needs
to include interpretation that engages in a process of learning so that
each architectural work can improve upon the next.
In the 21st century, architectural developments are redefining scalability.
Architecture is evolving not only from era to era or from building to
building, but from moment to moment and from occupant to occupant. Also,
by injecting interpretation, architecture is capable of yielding plasticity
to optimize environments for tuning occupant experience in real-time.
Yes, form and function are essential to architectural evolution, but when
interpretation becomes part of a building’s nervous system, architecture
benefits via feedback into its own dynamic behavior. Such behavior results
from communication between design, function and interpretation allowing
adaptive architecture to use cultural shifting to leverage its ability
to better serve human need. Of course, architects teach each other through
their work; however, evaluation will be an increasingly shared responsibility
between not just architects that design and elite critics that interpret,
but also between architectural occupants that experience and perceive.
Interpretation is integral to architectural evolution so those with keen
ability to observe, interpret and express are invaluable. Elite critics
contribute to architectural advancement by distinguishing good architectural
qualities from the bad. However, their interpretations also frequently
blur the boundary between unbiased and biased evaluation. Herein, lies
the problem when elite interpretation is based on conjecture rather than
on direct experience. All too often, architectural information is unavailable
for interpretation causing architectural evolution to lose ground.
Ironically, it is because critics and architects are human that such biases
in interpretation occur. For example, the strong human tendency to want
to stay with a given group or style may influence critics. Also, since
elite critics and architects are highly specialized, they cannot humanly
account for every possible variable impacting their architectural interpretation.
Because of such limitations, the evolution of architecture has also been
hindered, particularly in the advancement of architectural design for
the whole human. Yet, in the future there is hope.
In the 21st century, architecture is becoming evermore transient, adapting
from moment to moment. This adaptive architecture will learn by tuning
to its occupants in real-time. Its memory will facilitate such adaptation
by learning from each occupant interaction. Together, these interactions
will yield a collective intelligence that will drive building behavior.
Elite critics will need to consult with an adaptive building’s collective
wisdom for proper interpretation.
Soon, we will be living in “[a] world governed less and less by boundaries
and more and more by connections …”
Interpreting such ‘connections’ will require more intelligence
than can be offered by an elite few. Therefore, the way critics interpret
architecture in the future will likely have to change. Architecture will
become evermore a complex adaptive system with a learning memory. It will
nurture the collective wisdom of its occupants and this will improve not
only its inherent behavioral learning but also the effectiveness of architect
and elite critic interpretations.
Interpretation as Feedback
Interpretation is essential to architectural evolution. By pushing the
conventions of architectural design, interpretation often unveils significant
architectural patterns. For architects, elite interpretation frequently
promotes self-improvement. While for occupants, elite interpretation serves
to educate and enhance future experience. Yet, although it is often quite
helpful, in the future elite interpretation will be increasingly limited
by its top-down approach. Occupant feedback matters because collectively
these opinions yield intelligence. By capitalizing on such collective
wisdom, elite critics and architects may increase their effectiveness.
Eventually, such bottom-up interpretation methods will serve to strengthen
elite influence as well as reinforce reciprocal relationships between
elite critics and architects.
Because of its composition, adaptive architecture can help elite critics
and architects make better sense of architectural patterns. Its learning
memory is ideal for the incorporation of bottom-up interpretation techniques
as mentioned above. After all, it is with its occupant’s recorded collective
wisdom that its dynamic, fleeting and elusive behavior can be made accessible
for interpretation. Fundamentally, the collective must be understood to
make sense of adaptive buildings.
Occupants actually become part of adaptive architecture as each of their
interactions embeds into the building’s behavioral fabric. Consequently,
interpreting architecture becomes the shared responsibility of not simply
elite critics and architects but of building occupants as well. In fact,
adaptive buildings will also evolve in a perpetual process of self-critique;
dynamically tuning between occupant interactions and their own rule-based
system. Adaptive architecture will have many opportunities to learn as
it gives voice to its collective, making the process of elite interpretation
more accurate, effective and relevant.
Of course, the relevance of elite interpretation is crucial as it will
directly and quickly feedback into adaptive buildings. Accordingly, the
relationship between elite critics and architects will grow ever closer.
If they agree there is a problem they can assess the building’s behavior
and tweak its rules. For example, when an office building is not optimally
helping employees with productivity, elite interpretation can help architects
revamp the building’s rules. To minimize employee stress, for instance,
elite critics may adjust architectural lighting, acoustics, materiality
and vistas to dynamically complement employee behaviors. Thus, with the
help of elite interpretation, preexisting adaptive architecture can self-heal.
The architect can simply fix the building’s rules to improve its behavior.
Of course, adaptive architecture can also heal from the bottom up by using
its rules to learn from the wisdom of its collective day after day.
Ultimately, collective wisdom is as important as elite interpretation.
Both are expressed to directly impact adaptive buildings, helping to make
them more human-centered. In this process, each will regulate the other
via the architecture. The quality of elite interpretation will reflect
in the quality of the building’s behavior. In turn, the collective will
voice their opinion about such behavior, providing dynamic feedback to
the elite. Of course, the architect and elite critic will need to factor
client needs as well. But ultimately, architectural interpretation
will be a balance between the elite few and the collective. By extracting
the wisdom from each, adaptive architecture will thrive.
Adaptive Architecture as a Complex Rule-based System
As adaptive architecture emerges, buildings will radiate with their own
character. Extending beyond geographic limitations, this character will
be influenced by local as well as global connections. This architecture
will bridge the real with the virtual through its interactions and its
character will reflect those experiences. Adaptive architecture will be
dynamic and goal-oriented. Occupants will be its primary concern and its
architect-designed rules will be the basis for its occupant-centered approach.
Rules moderating adaptive architecture will be simple, yet when coordinated,
they will yield elegant architectural behaviors. Such rules will form
connections between occupant behavior and architectural interaction. Essentially,
rules will orchestrate how a building learns. For example, a hospital’s
rules may be most concerned with healing while an office building’s rules
may be most concerned with productivity. Ultimately, adaptive architecture’s
rules will be the foundation for its adaptation process.
Because it will constantly tune to occupant interactions, adaptive architecture
will be transient. This transience is likely to make interpretation more
difficult for critics not knowing where and how to look. Ever-changing
forms and functions may reveal a passing glimpse of adaptive architecture’s
essence; but, for meaningful interpretation, elite critics will need to
evaluate the building’s learning memory. Within, all occupant interactions
will be recorded to yield a collective. This history of recordings will
be large, diverse, minimally biased and subsequently, intelligent. By
consulting this collective, elite critics will gain understanding of architectural
behavior. After all, the character of an adaptive architecture will be
nurtured by its collective and expressed in its behavioral fabric. That
means that a building’s behavior will evolve over time and its occupants
will play a key role in that development.
Of course, the architect will also have major influence on the behavior
of an adaptive architecture. As initial rule-maker, the architect will
leave an imprint that will become the primary focus for elite critics.
Rules are the basis for complex adaptive systems and are key to evaluating
how such buildings will learn. Fortunately, the collective reveals wisdom
concerning how well given rules were initially designed. Given this, elite
critics can interpret how well an adaptive architecture learns; thus,
evaluating prior significance and future potential.
The focus of interpretation will evolve from evaluating “what is”, to
evaluating “what could be”. For example, as adaptive buildings reach their
equilibrium point when their learning curve flattens, interpretation becomes
measure for revitalization. Interpretation will not only impact the health
of preexisting buildings but will also impact the outcome of those still
on the drawing board. Therefore, elite critics will continue to consult
with the collective to ensure the advancement of adaptive architecture.
In the future, buildings and occupants will strengthen their relationship
as each will benefit from interaction with the other. Adaptive architecture
will tap into a fundamental human quality where “[…] the more responsibility
people have for their own environments, the more engaged they will be.”
This fuels collective wisdom and generates a win-win situation
where all benefit; the architect builds better buildings, the client obtains
a building that evolves to meet their needs over time, the occupant has
a say in their environment and elite critics more effectively impact architectural
evolution. Needless to say, the architect, the client, the occupant and
the elite critic will all have important functions. However, it is the
wisdom of the collective that ultimately links all together to drive the
Collective Wisdom Becomes a Portal
Once the architect establishes the rules, the collective makes real-time
decisions that influence form and function. In the book The Wisdom
of Crowds the author explains that “you can let a thousand flowers
bloom and then pick the one that smells the sweetest”.
With its wisdom, the collective picks the “sweetest” architectural
experiences. Each decision feeds into the next, making the building’s
behavior ever “sweeter”. With each successive occupant interaction, the
adaptive architectural system refines itself according to its design rule
framework. And as adaptive architecture tunes with each occupant its collective
grows, making its wisdom evermore intelligent.
Elite critics will soon be able to evaluate, more precisely, how well
an adaptive architecture relates to its occupants. Interpretation will
focus on architectural learning for architectural tuning. Building behavior
will evolve from real-time experience with the collective while building
rules will use memory to learn from such experiences. Hence, interpreting
adaptive architecture will mean evaluating its system rules.
The designer of such rules will be the architect since they will require
design talent, insight and vision. Pressure to design the rules well will
weigh heavily on the architect because a building’s success will be dependent
upon them. In fact, one could argue that such rules will give adaptive
architecture a type of predisposition. In other words, a building’s potential
can be strengthened or weakened by its rules, no matter how intelligent
its collective. Yet, it is collective wisdom that drives adaptive architecture
to realize the fullest potential of its rules. By integrating feedback
from the collective, rules yield adaptation. Although this occurs because
such feedback from the collective is inherently intelligent; ultimately,
a building’s collective will only be as good as its rule-based system.
Each will need the other to benefit from their respective wisdoms.
Similarly, adaptive architecture will depend upon elite interpretation.
Without this highly specialized understanding, the evolution of such buildings
will be limited. Still, how will elite critics and architects gain meaningful
insight into fleeting architectural events? Interpretation of adaptive
architecture will be akin to an archeological dig because form will be
as fleeting as function. Like archeologists, elite critics will uncover
buried behavioral clues to be found within the recorded interactions involving
the collective. Such information will serve to anchor an adaptive building’s
dynamic forms with its functions in time. The same collective wisdom that
once steered the building will then guide elite critics as well.
So, the collective will help elite interpretation to transcend space and
time. Such need to rely on the collective will increase with the pervasiveness
of architectural technology. Although memory will be critical for the
interpretation of transient systems, it is its interpretation that must
maintain relevance. This means that elite critics and architects will
need to incorporate contextual significance to correctly influence systems.
For this, the collective will serve as a portal into the connections driving
a building’s behavior.
Adaptive building’s will each have their own character, but through them
will flow numerous cultures. Each building will tune for individuals at
both macro and micro scales. For instance, a building may encompass global
communication, national security, local culture and personal preferences
at any given moment. Depending on its rules, adaptive architecture can
become quite complex in how it blends cultural rhythms. The cultures that
it inhales will reflect in the character that it exhales. All the while,
its learning memory will preserve what its physical form cannot. As elite
critics and architects interpret this living memory, they will be able
to piece together details yielding experience of what once was. Even if
the building still stands, it will be important for elite critics to interpret
its past. In doing so, collective wisdom will facilitate the interpretation
of not only what was, but also of what is and what will be. Elite critics
will find meaningful patterns within cultural contexts to critique the
design of architectural rules.
Critiquing the Rules
Sensory Design explains that “an event is usually far richer in
nuance than the language used to describe it.”
Once an architectural event has passed, nuance begins to fade and
subsequent interpretations suffer. Similarly, when perception is formed
from another’s perception, nuance will also be lost. Therefore, the perception
of occupants should not completely replace the perception of the elite
few. Instead, elite critics should evaluate occupant perception to form
their own expert interpretations.
Adaptive architecture will provide critics with different perspectives.
Event nuance will be captured within its memory, frozen within the recordings
of occupant interactions. This collective wisdom will provide critics
with meaningful detail making-up the architectural experience they are
to interpret. This calls upon elite critics to make sense of collective
data because universally “[t]he crowd is blind to its own wisdom.”
In the future, the challenge will not be in the lacking of detailed information
about a building, but rather, in the complexity of interpreting large
quantities of such information. For this, the collective will pool wisdom
from its mass diversity so elite critics can provide more specialized
expert evaluation. It is likely that elite critics will become experts
in architectural experience via the rule-based systems that form them.
Since adaptive architecture will indeed be rule based, interpretation
and critique of such buildings will primarily be rule oriented. Such rules
will establish dynamic relationships between architectural elements to
yield a variety of emergent behaviors. Equipped with a learning memory,
rules will be showcased through the collective. For this reason, elite
critics may deconstruct architectural experience to strategically enhance
architectural systems. Simply stated, adjusting the rules will alter an
adaptive building’s behavior.
Adaptive architecture learns as its rules interpret experience. In fact,
achieving its learning potential will greatly depend on the relationship
between its rules and its experience. Architects will have to consider
occupants in an entirely new dimension as adaptive architecture gains
precision in its ability to meet individual human need.
Focus will shift from interpreting form and function to interpreting the
rules that yield form and function. Evaluating architecture will involve
interpretation at all scales since small and simple system adjustments
will have widespread and complex architectural effects. Adaptive architecture
will display emergent behavior as such effects ripple through the sum
of its parts. In the end, interpretation will evaluate how well an adaptive
architecture negotiates between its rules and its collective. The better
the building’s rules then the better the building’s behavior.
With collective wisdom, elite critics will interpret an adaptive building’s
prior significance and future potential. In addition, architectural memory
will turn the passage of time into a help rather than a hindrance. Consequently,
the process of deconstruction and reconstruction will become more meaningful
for elite critics and architects. As the wisdom of the collective is harnessed,
so too, will be the potency and effectiveness of architectural interpretation.
Finally, architecture will experience significant evolutionary growth,
redefining what it means to design for the whole human.
Flachbart, Georg and Peter Weibel. Disappearing Architecture.
(Basel: Birkhauser, 2005), 14.
Surowiecki, James. The Wisdom of Crowds. (New York: Anchor
Books, 2005), 212.
Malnar, Joy Monice and Frank Vodvarka. Sensory Design. (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 2004), 70.
Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds. op. cit., 36.