Department of Architecture
University of Edinburgh
This paper explores the issue of design and
modelling in the context of the studio theme of architecture and
the body. This year we undertook a project for the design of a
museum of body technologies which was to function as a remote
annexe to a major science museum. The museum would house multimedia
installations pertaining to the emerging technologies of the body,
such as prosthetics, nanotechnology, smart drugs, gene technologies,
robotics, and cosmetic surgery. As the site was far from the main
museum there were also opportunities to explore relationships
between architecture, communications networks and information
resources. There was also the possibility that many "visitors"
would never attend the museum in person, but only electronically
through the Internet, or its successor.
The body featured as the main theme
of the project, a theme that was progressively transformed to
become one of attitude. As well as suggesting a mental
view or opinion, "attitude" suggests a bodily posture,
pose, disposition or orientation. To have an attitude to something
is simply to orient one's body in relation to it, often to face
it. Also, in vernacular terminology a person or thing can have
"an attitude," or simply "attitude" in its
own right. A person "with attitude" is opinionated in
a way that is unselfconscious. "Attitude" also relates
to the vernacular term of "cool." "Attitude"
connotes impudence and audacity, presented in a way that is calm,
relaxed, unexaggerated, undemonstrative and self possessed.
The theme of attitude is well illustrated
in a design by two students who started by identifying different
locations in the city of Edinburgh, in which attitude is foregrounded
(Figure 1), and trying to project an appropriate architecture
for a distributed museum of "body attitudes." So they
identified a grave yard, night club, art gallery, market place,
and so on, to be linked together by electronic communications.
They began by thinking of emotional responses to each location,
but soon transformed the language of mental states into concepts
of bodily attitude, a move that allowed them to establish the
distance required to develop an architecture "with attitude."
The result was a highly "opinionated" architecture exploiting
various "club" and even erotic themes, presented through
sloganised multimedia graphics (Figures 2 and 3).
A model of the Edinburgh docklands used for identifying sites
"with attitude." Model by Paul Barnes Hoggett.
Figure 2. Excerpt
from a multimedia presentation on a museum of "body attitude"
by Paul Barnes Hoggett and James Taylor.
Figure 3. The
"hub" of the multimedia museum by Paul Barnes Hoggett
and James Taylor.
The theme of hot versus cool (as an issue of
attitude) is illustrated in the designs of two of the students
who elected to develop their respective buildings on the themes
of major "variables" to which the body responds, namely
heat and cold (or summer and winter). Both students started with
the motif of the spine which they developed differently in response
to the variables. The hot (summer) building starts out, conceptually,
as a cluster of spaces compacted along the spine, but it then
opens up from the spine to produce a loose configuration of rooms
and courtyards (Figures 4 and 5). The cold (winter) design is
also open (has a large perimeter), but as a means of exposing
the occupants to the winter elements (Figure 6 and 7). Both designs
play on the theme of active and passive. The hot building opens
up, so it is active. The cool building becomes a passive receptacle
to the movement of people, particularly in its receptivity to
the shadowy and distorted images of people skating across an ice
Successive unfolding of a building based on a response to the
variable of heat, by Susann Carson.
The summer museum by Susann Carson.
A building exploring the bodily theme of "cool," by
Figure 7. The
winter museum as a means of exposing occupants to the winter elements.
Hot and cold are sensations, pertaining to
feelings and mental states (feeling hot or cold), but the designs
also show that hot and cold are matters of bodily positioning.
In this context heat is about opening up, exposure to the sun
and breeze, being active; cold is about passivity, receiving the
impressions of movement. These observations resonate with Marshall
McLuhan's concepts of the mass media. For McLuhan hot media such
as the radio and books require an active imagination, which is
to say the listener or reader has to do some work. They also incite
action. Cool media such as the television and comics induce soporific
responses. The high bandwidth and constant flicker and spectacle
of movement and imagery induces inaction before the television
set. The action is all on the screen so the body does not have
to do any work. Such reflections promote the concepts of hot and
cool in terms of bodily posture and movement, further developing
the play between body attitude and "cool."
A further instance of "cool" is
the body in repose. A third member of the team produced a building
based on how the "variable" of darkness (the night)
impinges on the spine, developing a "night-club" museum,
the night-club being an arena in which the vernacular of "hot"
and "cool" find ready application (Figure 8).
Museum by Claire McDonagh Sa. The building is in repose, burrowed
into the ground, and the "spine" is curved.
Many people think that architecture can inspire,
that is, induce a mental state of awe, a view that commonly features
in the design justifications of architecture students. Figure
9 shows a design motivated by such an idea, but later transformed
by concepts of posture. The building was to take visitors through
successive stages of evolutionary development or "enlightenment,"
not only in terms of what was on display, but in terms of the
museum "experience." To experience the building was
to be involved in the successive unfolding towards a state of
exaltation. But as the design developed, the concept of inspirational
progression gave way to a metaphoric excursion into successive
stages of posture, reflected in the progressive growth in scale
of the architecture as you pass through it.
A design in which the language of inspiration was transformed
into that of posture, by Sarah Bradley.
The concept of inspiration can be treated as
a bodily term. Inspiration pertains to animation, invigoration,
arousal, inhaling, and rising to a height. Darwinian diagrams
showing progression from walking on all fours to standing upright
are "inspirational" in so far as they depict postural
transformation. When we see the issue of inspiration as such it
transforms the critical language of art and architecture that
lays claim to inspirational intent (in expressionism for example),
transforming the exaltation of the sublime to matters of bodily
comportment. The question of what makes exultant architecture
becomes a question of what does this architecture do with and
to the body?
The relationship between inanimate objects
and attitude was developed early in the studio. As an introduction
to the brief and the modelling software (to provide an orientation)
the programme for the project required students to produce computer
models of objects on and around the site that clearly bore some
relationship with the body. The site was adjacent to docklands,
and objects selected included a lighthouse, telephone box (Figure
10 a and b), an iron bridge (Figures 11 a to d), building details
(Figure 12), a life ring (Figure 13), street furniture (Figure
14) and winch frame. Once the element was modelled students were
required to copy the file and create a variant of the element.
The variant was to be something that is hostile to the element's
normal relationship with the body. Such transformations can readily
be accomplished in Form Z.
Figure 10 a and b.
Telephone booth and telephone by Paul Kerr and Steve Rankin.
Figure 11 a to d.
The iron bridge on the site, modelled by Paul Barnes Hoggett.
Building detail by Iain Wylie.
Life ring by Lucy Hammerbeck.
Figure 14. Bollard
by Elizabeth Wilby.
The elements of the site respond to the comportment
of the body. They are also understood in terms of the body. A
bench invites you to sit down. A telephone box stands as a sentry.
A bollard bars your way. A light house stands guard. A wall obstructs
and protects. This bodily comportment becomes even more apparent
when you try and violate this "attitude" in some way,
so that the seat repels, the bollard gives way, the light house
becomes a perpetrator of danger (Figures 15 to 18).
Figure 15 a and b.
A seat that resists the advances of the body, by Michael Blake.
Figure 16 a to d.
An inert canon as a street ornament takes flight, by David Goss.
Figure 17 a and b.
A light house that usually protects the body threatens it, by
Figure 18 a and b.
A winch designed to extend the power of the body is transformed
into a treadmill designed to entrap it, by Alix Pelen.
The body-object relationship works in many
ways, in street furniture as in architecture. Such objects are
designed, manufactured, installed and maintained through processes
that involve the body. The body comes in contact with them in
various ways. They can bear resemblances to bodies. They are part
of dimensioning systems that involve bodily ratios. Certain objects
participate in symbol systems that implicate the body. If we adopt
George Lakoff and Mark Johnson's concept of the bodily basis of
metaphor then our understanding of the properties of such objects
to stand, restrain, constrain, protect, and support present as
variants on the bodily themes of containment, force and weight.
Under the analysis of the philosopher, Michel
Foucault, such hardware is further implicated in the objects and
practices by which the body is rendered "docile." Foucault's
famous example is of the Panopticon (as developed in the early
19th century by Jeremy Bentham) as a means of encouraging civilised
behaviour in prisoners, where prisoners and guards alike apparently
behave themselves because they are part of a system of surveillance.
For Foucault, in the modern era, we organise our architecture,
and other hardware, to accommodate transformed power relations.
Rather than exercise power by inflicting violence, torture or
forced restraint on bodies, modern society has developed institutions,
practices and architectures that replace the spectacle of violence
with other bodily spectacles, well represented by the military
drill, codes of classroom behaviour, systems of confinement, gymnastics,
and even handwriting.
The issue of the body under surveillance comes
into play in the concept of the museum. Not only is the work on
show but so are the patrons. The size of the spaces, the lighting,
the finishes and the furniture, or lack of it, work in tandem
with attitudes towards the work on show, evident in the
postures of the patrons, postures that may be pensive, critical,
adoring, indifferent, engaged or exhausted. This is where unconventional
museums, displays, and art works present a challenge. What postures
(attitudes) do they work in with, particularly when we move into
the realm of digital interactions and displays, and the electronically
The museum of the night described above plays
on the theme of the spectacle of the body. Buildings used at night
can present a spectacle to the outside world (Figures 19 to 21).
It is a simple step from a discussion of the body to the erotic,
no doubt fuelled by notions that the mind pertains to reason and
abstraction, whereas the body pertains to pleasure and pain, sensuality,
and the erotic. But the students who developed the erotic theme
saw that concepts of the sensual, and seduction have architectural
correlates. Seduction is a game of revealing and concealing, as
much in evidence in the way architects deal with surfaces and
materials as in the hiding and exposing of the human body (Figure
22 a and b).
Figure 19. A museum that works with the theme
of the body in view. A series of glass boxes at ground level provides
glimpses of activity at and below ground, by Claire McDonagh Sa.
A museum that works with the theme of the body in view. A series
of glass boxes at ground level provides glimpses of activity at
and below ground, by Claire McDonagh Sa.
Figure 20 a to c.
A building that plays on the variable transparency of planes,
by Sam Harvey.
A transparent building by Sasha Bunbury.
Figure 22 a and b.
A museum design around the theme of seduction, as an issue of
revealing and concealing, by Steve Rankin and Paul Kerr.
The issue of scale clearly develops from notions
of the body, ratio, proportion, the human body as the determiner
of scale. Computer models also provide opportunities for distorting
scale. But scale is also a matter of one's point of view. Some
students identified scale as an issue early on in their design
(Figure 23). In terms of body technologies, there is the social
scale, the human scale and the nano (microscopic) scale. The building
was organised following these three levels of scale, and around
a surveillance tower. From the higher reaches of the tower you
have the overview, you see the social scale, in the middle is
the human scale, and at the lowest reaches one is involved in
the nano-level. The body is under view at three levels, that also
constitute scales of detail.
Figure 23. a and b A
design based on progressively finer points of view, by John Wiggett,
Fahmida Zaman and Jacqueline Ng.
The idea of "virtual architecture"
also participates in the issue of attitude, not least in its attempts
to find release from the constraints of the body, ecstasis. The
metaphors depicting the ephemerality of cyberspace commonly invoke
notions of flying, floating through space, progressing through
successive layers of enlightenment, as commonly depicted in cyberspace
fiction. Two students developed their museum in "virtual
space," a space that one visits through putative virtual
reality equipment in one's own home or elsewhere. The first space
the students developed consisted of an expanding scaffold of information,
that grows as the network expands (Figure 24). The initial concept
was of a space that one could fly through, but it soon became
apparent that the posture befitting such a space involved curling
up on one of the precarious platforms, a common response to vast
and vertiginous spaces. These reflections induced the construction
of a second space accessible through "gateways" in the
matrix of the scaffold. Unlike the expanding nature of the first
space, this space is built up of grafts of mechanical components,
accretions that increasingly hem one in, analogous to accretions
of information and knowledge (and also bodily grafts and prosthetics)
(Figure 25). This space is confined and cramped, pertaining to
bodily comportments of breaking out and resistance. Of course
the features of each space can be found in the other, and the
museum design is effectively a play between the two: the agoraphobic
and the claustrophobic.
Figure 24. The
open space of the "virtual museum," that expands as
the network grows, by Sofia Karim and David Goss (Quicktime animations).
The closed space of the museum, developing as mechanical accretions
and grafts, by Sofia Karim and David Goss.
As we have seen, the body metaphor in the design
studio is productive. It opens particular lines of inquiry. It
is also the case that the computer's presence in the design studio
still serves to exaggerate and provoke rendering certain issues
strange by virtue of a clash of contexts. Computer modelling re-animates
the body theme in architecture.
I acknowledge the enthusiasm of the twenty
one students in the Architecture and Multimedia Honours course
at the University of Edinburgh whose work is described here. I
would also like to acknowledge the assistance of Avon Huxor, Sarah
Chaplin and John Lansdown of the Centre for Electronic Arts, Middlesex
University, in helping develop the themes of this studio, as well
as their students who were also involved in this project.