Technology has played a big role in shaping the current society and its surroundings. It has affected every aspects of human life and one of them is space in the field of architecture and interior design. As technology changes, so does the practice of architecture and interior design. Previously, without the technology, the value of architecture lies in the process of crafting experience in a space. But, nowadays, with the technology, the value has changed into privileging the visual aesthetics of the space or described as visual architecture. Therefore, this essay aims to investigate the current effect of technology in architecture and interior design. As well as to argue that the current visual architecture has decreased the value of architecture.
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Technology opens the door to the future. It is one of the main essences that shape and change the way society behaves, as well as transcends the surrounding to suit the way society lives. Nowadays, the effect of technology has reached almost every level of the society, and one of them is modern building technology. It has great implication in the creation of space in both architecture and interior design. Since the early days, architecture is one of the most important needs of man. It provides space to live and works, an environment for interaction and provoking emotions, as well as a realm where experiences and memories are created. Feelings and emotions are evoked by the form and shape, the arrangement of forms and by relationships that space draws with the surroundings. It affects every part of human senses. As technology developed, the meaning of architecture started to adapt accordingly.
Formerly, with conventional building construction technology such as wood-framed, stone-stacking and mud bricks structures, the shape and form of architecture that could be achieved was only a simple and pure form. It led to a trend of homogeneous building, which made architecture looks similar with its surroundings. Because of this limitation, architects and designers became more sensitive and focused on crafting experiences in a space. These experiences then become memories that will be remembered by the visitor and elements that differentiate one building from another. As this continues, because of the limitation on the materials, building’s visual aesthetic is slowly decreasing. Currently, with the creation and development of new building materials and technologies, the inventions of cutting-edge and futuristic looking forms and shapes are possible. New materials and structures are evolved and manufactured everywhere. These advancements have made architects trying to work out and explore the possibility of how these new materials can be used to elaborate and create new structures for buildings. Unintentionally, these advancements has also made them became so attached to visual appearance. Meaning that majority of them concentrate on using technology in order to discover new forms and shapes for architecture in order to reflect the idea for which it was designed. The design of the building that focused on visual aesthetics has led to a trend of creating a form that looks good rather than a space that feels good.
With this trend continuing, it seems that the role of visual sense has being privileged when compared to other human senses. The impact of this trend causes the design of the current architecture being reduced and restricted into visual senses. With the absence of other senses, the strength of interaction between our bodies and a space is being diminished. This is because human experience space and environment through all of their senses, not only through the visual. The trend also indicates that the tendency in architecture of image rather than architecture of experience is increasing. The products of architecture of image will only offer visual consumption which won’t create lasting impressions that all the architects strive for. It will only become a nice looking postcard of visually striking building.
Hence, the essay aims to prove that the current use of technology in architecture is only being used to achieve visual aesthetics and has decreased the value of architecture. The essay will also argue that technology to achieve powerful or aesthetically pleasing form to the sight has to be able to grow hand in hand with other human senses, in order to create valuable experience and memory in a space. Only then, the value of architecture can be pushed to a full potential.
Architecture of Experience rather than Visual
“Instead of experiencing our being in the world, we behold it from outside as spectators of images projected on the surface of the retina.”
Pallasmaa, J, 2005, p.47
Before we can move forward to the main issue, to question the effect of technology towards current architecture, it is important to look and understand briefly what is the nature and value of architecture since the early days it was created. Throughout the history, despite of a large number of definitions which have been proposed by numerous architects, the answer to the nature and value of architecture has never come to a conclusion. Maybe it is because there are diverse ways to formulate an answer to this. Davies (2008) noted that one of the numerous definitions of architecture that can be found in dictionaries, refer to the meaning of, a method or style of building. It seems that this definition leads to a diminishing understanding that building is just an object of visual aesthetic. Some even make comparison of architecture with other form of arts which is sculpture. For instance, Santiago Calatrava, a world-renowned Santiago Calatrava:
Sculpture into Architecture,
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Spanish architects that combined sculpture and painting with architecture. He is claimed as a building sculptor and had a world-wide exhibition of his works. James Gardner (2005, “The Art Behind the Architect”, The NY Sun newspaper) mentioned that there is no clear line whether Calatrava is a sculptor that design buildings or an architect that makes sculptures. And whether his works are sculptures that are in a form of architecture or a combination of both art and architecture. So is architecture is just a method of applying aesthetics consideration to the form of buildings? Or it is just an art of making buildings beautiful? This idea of definition seems to have missed a central core of the nature and value of architecture.
Previously, in the prehistoric time where architecture was not even born yet, human lived in a nomadic way. They moved from one place to another. When night came, they stopped and lighted a fire to warm themselves up. By doing so, they started to define a “place”. And if they intend to stay there longer, they started to define a place to sleep, a place to shelter them from the rain, a place to collect and store food, a place where they could defend themselves from danger, etc. From their chosen site, experience of their surrounding, until the organization of their place, this leads to an evolution from a place to architecture. Based on that, one can say that the nature and value of architecture is in the sense of a place that is created by the organization between buildings with the surrounding and context itself. Thus, architecture relates to the way people live, it changes and evolves based on the environments, experiences and needs.
As time goes on, places that people used have became more diverse, sophisticated and complex which made architecture consistently changing as well. Starting from the prehistoric era where human dwells in occasional caves to stone-stacking shelters. Then evolves to temporal tents make by frame-wood structures and into round houses that made of mud bricks. And as human becomes more civilized, the needs of place for different functions emerged too. From a place to worship gods, a place to trade things, a place for entertainment and so much more. These places will keep on expanding to meet the different needs of human. Moreover, tools to build and transport materials, such as wheels or pulleys, have advanced and are still growing in order to make construction process becomes more efficient. So, not only materials have evolved, functions and tools to build each building have advanced as well. From the early civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Roman Empire and the East, the development in architecture to create buildings for different purposes have greatly varied. Egypt’s Pyramids, Greek’s Temples, and Roman’s Amphitheatres are just few illustrations of various functions that could be found globally.
The forms, materials, tools and functions of the architecture evolve because of the resources that are available in the environment. The needs for stronger materials to create shelter and suitable types of materials to craft the atmosphere for different functions have pushed the tool and building technology to an advanced level too. With the application of the advanced materials and technologies, humans are able to generate unique experiences which would enrich the physical and psychological experience in architecture.
In the time where modern building technology was not developed yet, there was a limitation in the creation of architectural form. Architects and engineers were only able to create certain kinds of form because of the limitation of the materials and tools at that time. Considering this constraints, the focus of architecture at this time is in the creation of experience, which is the nature and value of architecture since the early days. People lived through experiencing the world with body senses. One sense interacts with other senses to be able to let human integrate with the surrounding and the world. As a result, architecture is the product of this constant interaction between people with their surrounding and the world. Architecture provides spaces where people could do their daily activities, experience the environment, feel comfortable with it and generate impactful memories through these interactions. The interaction that happens can be either simple or complex. It means that the space within the architecture should be able to interact with at least one or all of the body senses. This is due to, as human we have needs and desires, beliefs and aspirations, as well as aesthetic sensibility that are affected by warmth, touch, odour, sound and visual stimuli. Every interaction that happens will be experienced by the body. And if the experience through the space is strong enough, it will formulate an impactful memory to the user’s mind. And if this is successful, the lasting impression that every architects strive for will be achieved. That is why architecture should be designed with a thought of multi-sensory experience inside the space.
Some examples of ideal architecture that illustrates significant historical buildings with good space design are The Colleseum in Rome, The Louvre in France, and Masjid Al-Haram in Mecca. For the first one which is The Flavian Amphitheatre or widely known as The Colosseum at Rome. The reason that it is one of significant historical buildings with good space design lies within the successful achievement of the monumental and grandeur size, practicality, efficiency for controlling the crowd and the most important is its ability to radiate the crowds and spectators excitement and experience throughout the whole space experience at that time. The hugely impressive vast ellipse form that is filled with tiers of seating was created to strike awe into anyone who saw this great monumental building. It was a symbol of the glorious power and cruelty of Rome and its emperors. Its classical design features, reminiscent of classical Greek architecture is the quintessential symbols of Roman cultures and was meant to convey that Rome was a great, mighty wealthy, and civilised nation. The Colleseum’s design was heavily influenced by concrete and vault arches which are two of their greatest inventions. And the construction technique that the Romans used is the standardised parts system so that the components are interchangeable which similar to the current modular system. This standardised system allowed some components of the building such as stairs and seats to be built off-site and then brought to the amphitheatre to be fitted in to their specific location. Along with the standardised parts system, there were also a huge number of entrances and exits being built throughout the amphitheatre. These entrances and exits were imperative to the amphitheatre in order to ensure the crowd to be seated quickly and efficiently. All of the design and system of The Colleseum has been used as the basic for the architects and designers to design and construct the current stadiums globally. The design and form of The Colosseum’s breath-taking architecture was as a result of the needs of major requirements as a theatre or arena for staging various forms of entertainment to the Romans. As well as, it is a result of the consideration towards the excitement that the designers wanted the spectators to feel. And even today, The Colosseum is still one of the hugely impressive skyscrapers and the memories of how Roman’s culture, social and life was like before can still be felt through exploring and experiencing the interior of it.
Another significant historical architecture with good spatial qualities is The Louvre in France. Currently, it is one of biggest art museums in the world. Built in the 12th century, it was constructed with a cut stone bearing masonry system and previously it was function as some kind of royal or defensive fortress against invasion until the late 18th century where it was first open to the public to display the royal’s collection such as paintings and sculptures. The reason that The Louvre is considered as significant historical building that has good spatial design lies in the strong sense of the country’s cultural knowledge that the building exhibits and can be identified through its architectural quality. Although The Louvre has a history of the ever-changing function of the architecture, started from a fortress to a palace and eventually becomes one of the world’s largest museums, no matter what it always bear and have its original identity, history and culture of that time it was built. It is because of the consideration towards the identity, history and culture aspects in mind that the designer had the idea of the form of the architecture and was able to craft the experience inside the space in order to display and showcase those aspects through the test of time.
And the third architecture that illustrates significant historical architecture with good spatial design is Masjid Al-Haram which is located at Mecca. It is the largest and considered as the holiest mosque in the world. The current architecture of the mosque is not what it was like since it was first built in the 7th century. There have been major rebuilt, modifications and expansions on its architecture and because of these expansions it has became the largest mosque in the world. The expansion happened in order to accommodate the increasing number of the pilgrims. Since the past, mosque has been considered as a medium for communication; either it is a communication between God and pilgrims or between fellow pilgrims. This idea of the mosque that it is built as a centre for social interaction rather than a building only for ritual or worshipping is being clearly shown and felt in the architecture of Masjid Al-Haram. For examples the presence of the courtyard surrounds the Kaaba or the grey square house which is designed or placed there with the intention of providing the best meditative and interactive atmosphere for the performance of prayer and community interacting experience to happen inside. And the placement of the minarets or the tall free standing towers is based on the topography of the site in order to create harmonious balance with the Kaaba. These considerations towards the pilgrims experience and the meaning for every placement or form that is created has made Masjid Al-Haram or The Holy Mosque a significant historical building with good spatial design. These 3 architectures above show that designing through paying considerations towards the experience and behaviour of the visitors or occupants would create lasting impression that could stands the test of time.
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Nevertheless, through this time, because of the limitation on the materials and tools that they could be worked or used, architects and engineers were only able to build certain kinds of forms which made them unsatisfied with the visual aesthetic of the building. With this feeling of unsatisfactory as the main force that drives architects and designers to overcome this issue, which then becomes one of the main factors of the emerging trend of visual architecture or an architecture that the visual aesthetic considerations is being privileged or have dominated the designer’s thoughts rather than the experiential value. It is until the late 18th century, in the industrial revolution era, when cast iron can be produced in a large numbers and cheaply enough and has opportunities in creating new forms. This is when architects and designers started to become aware of the glorious potential of cast iron used in architecture. One of the first architectural projects that are entirely made from cast iron is The Iron Bridge in Shropshire (Potter, D, 2006). And this marks the dawn of Modern building technology.
As technology has advanced towards a new stage, which is the modern building technology, the nature and value of architecture started to shift and adapt as well. The birth of modern technology is as the result of architects using experimental science and engineering theory and tools to inform the form and construction of their buildings. Which previously form and structures of buildings were relied strongly on the knowledge of the craftsman or builder. This development has begun to revolutionize architecture into an entirely new direction. Through this modern building technology, architects and designers are provided with a new range of materials and tools to achieve and satisfy their hunger for more advanced forms. Previously, the architectural form of each location has their own unique characteristics. This is because of their environment would only be able to produce certain kinds of materials. Due to this constraint, architects and designers had lesser choices of resources that were available. This led to vernacular architecture of that area which meant that the material and building tool that they used to construct buildings in a location would have a more deeply grounded meaning with the context of the building and in a way was more purely defined with the unique representative form of that certain location. For instance, the Pyramid in Egypt that is made from stone is entirely different from the Temple in China which is made from wood. But since the developed world’s industrialisation trend has expanded globally throughout the world. This has influenced the local architects and designers wanting to follow the international architectural fashions style and has become another factor that contributed in the emerging trend of visual architecture.
With modern building technology , transportation of materials from one location to another location has became possible, the ability of mass production has lowered the cost of construction, and computer software has accelerated the time to finish the drawing or design of a building. These developments have made the process of realizing architecture become more efficient and effective in every layer, either it is the time span to complete, the construction, the planning of the project, the creation of the building’s form or even the innovation of new and better materials is continually increasing. The development of materials has played a big role in the creation of advanced architectural form. It is one of the aspects that started the trend of “architecture of image”. Beginning by looking into the traditional materials that have been used since the prehistoric times, which is wood. This material could be considered as the forefather of all current materials. In the early days, prehistoric people used these to build tents as their shelters from the sun and rain. By constructing tree trunks or branches together creating the shape of an inverted V-shape, putting some support to hold it firm on the ground and covered with leaves. This creates the simplest foundation of architecture form. As human evolved so did materials for shelter. Moving from wood to stone, as a stronger material, the form of the shelter started to develop into tent-like house by stacking different stones together.
As human moves on to the times of early civilizations, the needs, desires, and beliefs have been greatly varied too. This leads to the creation of places of worships, sacrifices, monuments, and governments. Based on this, the form of the architecture started to goes vertically higher and bigger. At this time, pillar, column, beam, arch and dome has started to be built to fulfil the functions of the architecture. Moving on from the prehistoric times into the middle age, at this time, castles are becoming common forms of architecture in every part of Europe. And as it moves through The Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassicism and Gothic revival, from 15th century to 18th century, architects and designers feel that every architectures in their own location has looked similar because of the limitation of technology and materials provided at that time and that location.
Until early 19th century, when modern building technology was discovered. This technology allowed iron to be used in architecture because it has became relatively cheaper while previously it was considered as a very expensive material. Iron is architecturally unique because of being relatively lightweight and malleable as well as strong. Moreover, because of its properties, it can be used for free-form designs. In this period, glass has also been widely used and available. Glass is widely used for its optimal balance between aesthetics, functions and its ability to create effects that could change experience. The reason is because glass has the property that allows light to transmits in and by using it, the architects or designers has the power to controls light which creates an illusion that the building are able to change, move and create certain atmosphere. And for architect light is one of the powerful tools in crafting experience in architecture. One of the architecture that reflects a building of high technology in this period is the Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition. Built in 1851 in London, this building was made of modular cast iron and glass which symbolized the industrial, technological and economic superiority of the modern building technology. Progressing to the late 19th century, which reinforced concrete is invented. At this time, concrete is being reinforced with iron or steel in order to increase the strength of tension in concrete to minimize cracking problem. By doing so, this reinforced concrete have special properties which are more durable to thermal expansion, provides strength to optimize building structures and it has the ability to bend allowing it to be made into any shape or size for architectural purpose. Because of these special properties, reinforced concrete is still one of the most popular materials that are being used for construction purposes until now. And in 20th century, plastics became widely known and popular as well. It is because plastics are lightweight, resilient, generally resistant to corrosion and moisture, and can be moulded and formed into complex shapes. And because it is the only man-made material, this allowed it to be developed even more in the future. This development in modern building technology has opened the door for architects and designers to realize all the unrealized ideas that they had in mind. And with this the notion of “architecture of image” is slowly becoming a trend.
With advancement in modern building technology, materials and tools to construct a building have greatly expanded. Back then, buildings are limited with height. Mainly it is because of the limitation of materials and tools that caused architects and designers to think and design horizontally. But with modern building technology, current buildings are able to go higher becoming a skyscraper or go deeper underground, maybe becoming an earth scraper, and not only going vertically, it also allows the buildings to be built diagonally. From geometric to organic form or from masses to pixels, current technology makes everything possible. Moreover, modern building technology is being used for visualizing and selling the ideas that the designers have to the clients too. For example 3 dimensional simulation software that are able to produce photo realistic images of the building even though it has not being constructed yet. Architecture has entered into a realm of visual form which is nothing more or less than the creation of building’s tangible and visible shapes.
Beekman Tower, Frank Gehry
One example of a purely visual architecture is the Beekman Tower in New York by Frank Gehry. It is a curious fusion of public and private zones. The main design feature is the organic form of the building’s facade which is made of aluminium foil. The organic folds evoke the sense of water ripples. And the effects of ripples are being enhanced more on the daytime because of the natural light. This building is surely a successful design and appealing to one of human senses which is the visual. But for the interior, everything inside the space is dully conventional. The consideration towards other senses inside the space in order to experience the space has been neglected.
Another one is the Orchard Central in Singapore by DP Architects. The key design element of this shopping mall is on the facade of the mall which is a ‘faceted membrane’ which will function as massive media wall and is set to be an iconic feature at the junction of Orchard and Killiney roads. The idea of this is to add aural and visual vibrancy to the central stretch of Orchard Road. By doing so, the architectural facade of the building will be able to generate visual connection with the public. But the problem is the elimination of other senses and the dependency towards the vision has made the design of the space unattractive and unable to create a connection with the visitors.
In addition to another architecture that illustrates purely visual architecture is The Central Plaza Shopping Mall by Manuelle Gautrand which is located in Bangkok, Thailand. The design of the architecture relies heavily on the façade of the building while the interior is not greatly different from most other shopping mall in the city. The idea of the glowing red lines that simply clad or covered the facade of the building which is the key design element of the architecture is being conceived by the designer as tools that are able to send messages of flow movement and fluidity to the visitors. This perception shows that the design of the building is influenced by technology and only focus on the visual aesthetics to resolve the issue of the space. And by doing so it weakens the architectural value of it and diminished the experiential value inside. Orchard Central, DP Architects
Based on both of the case studies above, it is fairly obvious that the privileged of visual senses over other human senses will create a sense of detachment between the architecture and the visitors. This is merely because humans experience the world and their surroundings through their senses. For instance, the sounds of steps, the light that penetrates through the space, the coldness of the concrete walls, scale and proportion are just few ways of how architecture interacts with the visitors’ senses. Such interaction is then strengthened and articulated through the complex interaction of human senses and will be perceived by the visitors as an experience. With this two-way interaction between visitors and architecture, it will lead to the creation of meaningful memory towards the space.
It is true that vision is the first connection between human and the world. Most of us, when we are walking through a space or street, are affected in one way or another by the looks of the buildings that we pass through, the positions of the objects and the arrangements inside the space. But in architecture, the reliance in the sphere of vision will only made the building existed merely on a surface level which is as an object of visual expression such as a postcard. Architecture should be able to interact with every human sense because it is a representation or expression of human minds. And the only way to communicate with the mind is by experiencing the world and surrounding through the senses. That is when architecture has moved on to another level. So, by using the modern technology, not only to grasped the visual aesthetics that has became a trends nowadays, but also to craft the experience that has been the nature and value of architecture since the early days. This will affect the human physically and psychologically and will push the architecture to the full potential.
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