Since the earliest times, our practice of designing and fabricating structures has been one of our basic needs. The manually carved monolithic temples to constructions of the pre-industrial period are a witness to the countless wonders craft and architecture have produced. The interventions of computational tools in re-imagining innovative processes have catalytically transformed architecture. In that sense, computational tools have birthed significant advances and consequent concerns. They have emerged as a popular subject, debating whether “the digital” has been absorbed by the disciplines or has “the digital” absorbed the discipline?’. With the progressions in digital technology, the invasion of computational design tools has been irresistible. Computational design enables a pattern of design thinking that includes processes and outcomes that past methods were unable to do. An example of applications of computational design in trend is digital fabrications. The digitally controlled manufacturing processes have allowed architects to think of new aesthetics by resolving complex geometries and optimizing the form. It also holds possibilities for extensively exploring the existing ones.
New age, New Architecture | Computational tools
Over the years, architecture associations have translated from serving to providing shelters to devising a process of solving problems entangled within our built environment. Architecture has been given an important position in developing the means to help us adapt to the consequences of industrial advancements. In its attempt to recognize, explain and resolve issues reaching a point of crisis, architecture has found potential in computational design. Through a strategic integration of precise algorithms, parametric variations, optimized generations, and materialization, computational design has created a shift in how form can be perceived, proposed, and produced. As an intermediary agent between geometry, logic, and material – computational design has evolved as a medium for our creative expressions through form finding. Additionally, it is a potential breakthrough for sustainability in architecture through environmental simulations and optimizations.
There has been a concentrated discourse about how design thinking offered by computational tools can acknowledge the representation and accumulation of multi-layered concepts. Indeed, there are plenty of investigations in computational architecture regarding the exploration of materials and their integration with digital fabrication. The awakened interests in organic objects and natural materials have led us to understand relationships between the character and function of these traditional materials and processes through analysis using computational fragments.
Modern innovations and traditional practices.
A bespoke attempt at the investigation of how organic materials, traditional expertise, and computational competency can be interlaced together is illustrated through coolAnt. A biomimetic expression of a bee hive was brought to life as a unique air-cooling solution. Located by a diesel generator set at Deki Electronics in Noida, CoolAnt is a honeycomb-like prototype that uses water and local materials and works to reduce its surrounding temperatures naturally. The installation comprised porous terracotta cylinders of different sizes placed in the desired mound, giving a very efficient geometry. The concentric placement of tapering terracotta pots provided a larger surface area with both its inner and outer surfaces and the area between the pots to cool the air passing through them. Despite being made up of negative spaces between the pots, the entire geometry helped facilitate an efficient, economical solution against the predominant mechanical cooling systems, together with having an equally aesthetical appearance.
The entire system is curated with 800 terracotta pots and evaluated several times through Computational Fluid Dynamics as the sizes and shapes of the terracotta pots were manipulated accordingly using digital tools. Various configurations for the geometry were tested, and in conclusion, the shape of the pots was cast as tapering cylinders that would create the Venturi effect. The geometry was arranged into a honeycomb structure that provided the most effective cooling. After the installation was effectively analyzed, a temperature drop of 6ºC was observed around the system. Besides the noticeable thermal comfort, the structured honeycomb form of the installation leveraged terracotta pots and water as a low-cost and low-energy air purification mechanism. Since the terracotta pots are wet, they initiate purification at multiple levels as they “filter out heavy particles, so in a way, the entire installation acts like an air scrubber. The water droplets on and inside the pots purify the air passing through”. Simultaneously, it encourages the natural formation of microalgae over its surface that feeds upon the emitted carbon particles, thus enhancing the air quality and the natural cooling. The CoolAnt, being environmentally beneficial, is also an effluvial stimulator of the petrichor of the water falling on the pots presenting a savorous smell along with the sound.
The CoolAnt presents a solution that is eco-friendly and creative. “It is the re-adaptation of traditional methods, combining ancient systems with modern technologies.” Working with the intersection of art, nature, and technology, the invention shows how traditional methods can evolve as per our requirements. While the thought of the system was developed through the inherited knowledge of the mechanism of passive cooling, and the analysis was done computationally, the production was entirely analogue. Once the pots were digitally manipulated and finalized, local potters were commissioned to fabricate the pots manually. In a sense, this intervention contributed to the revival of the dying craft of pottery by engaging the artisans in producing a simplistic and almost instinctive design solution in agreement with the technology of computational tools and mechanical design. Being an approach towards developing a sustainable system, “Beehive is a testimony that innovative, informed design can incorporate traditional air-cooling methods with modern technology for a sustainable, zero-emission, zero plastic and inexpensive alternative.”
The instance of CoolAnt exhibits an enriched solution resulting in the collaboration between architects and local artisans. While many of our modern practices and contemporary materials no longer make any sense in the context of environmental crisis, this exploration with terracotta and computational design shows how the past can enlighten the future. Terracotta shows a reasonable translation of modest ideas from history into sustainable solutions in the urgent need to rethink our materials. It establishes how traditional and vernacular ideas can be the basis for innovations. Terracotta may be the best-justified solution for architecture to explore a more sustainable culture and alternative to plastics.
The possible interface of craft and computational technology | Computational tools
In light of the overwhelming technological developments, computational tools have become a process on the bandwagon where everyone is trying their hands-on experimentation. Many practitioners, howbeit, have been recalibrating themselves to take advantage of these tools beyond the bounds of our contemporary architectural practices. By and large, the example of CoolAnt, which has been conceived as a system for personal cooling, exhibits the judicious application of computational tools for manipulating the traditional handicraft practice of terracotta pottery. The discussion of terracotta as a material and the craft of pottery in the latter section explicates the intuitional and material performances of traditional skills. These conventional practices possess and also provide empirical knowledge of material performance that can successfully be integrated with the logic and deductive reasoning of computational tools for optimization. The result could produce a dynamic system with improved materiality and performance that can control the execution of architecture in the context of environmental as well as cultural sustainability, just as in the case of CoolAnt.
There has been a consistent dialogue of materialization in architecture, and ever since the onset of computational tools, many new opportunities have opened up beneficial ways for architectural designing. Acknowledging the transformations introduced, the hypothesis relies on the re-interpretation of traditional craft practices following an architectural design due to its diverse aspects. Simulating the traditional processes or re-interpreting the great craft in our design would highlight the cultural aspect while relocating the identity of our architectural marvel in the contemporary urban context. In addition, it will also revive interest in its hereditament and prove to be beneficial for the artisans. It would provide a union of theory while allowing complete control over the computational tools. The hypothesis has been condensed to terracotta as a material due to its historical prevalence in architecture and craft and its flexibility in material exploration. The material properties of terracotta have also been a subject of discussion, explaining the ecological as well as economic aspects of the material.
- Shweta Salvi, Keeping Cool With Beehive, Available at http://theinsidetrack.in/home/keeping-cool-with-beehive (Accessed on: 10.11.22)
- Ant Studio, Deki CoolAnt Installation, Available at http://ant.studio/beehive/mtqby6ivdkyudroyknv708m0ptyhco (accessed on: 10.11.22)
- Ant Studio, CoolAnt, Available at https://www.coolant.co/ (Accessed on: 11.11.22)
- CoolAnt BeeHive, Nov. 16th, 2021, Available at https://theindexproject.org/award/nominees/7089 (accessed on 11.11.22)
- Meghna Mehta, Dec, 14th, 2019, CoolAnt Coral By Ant Studio, Availabel at https://www.stirworld.com/see-features-traditional-solutions-to-air-pollution-coolant-coral-by-ant-studio (Accessed on 11.11.22.)
- Digital Building Technologies, Available at: https://dbt.arch.ethz.ch/project/digital-bamboo/ (Accessed on: 12.11.22)
- The Index Project, CoolAnt, Available at https://theindexproject.org/award/nominees/7089 (Accessed on 12.11.22)