Richard COYNE

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).

Figure 1. 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 rink.

Figure 4. Successive unfolding of a building based on a response to the variable of heat, by Susann Carson.

Figure 5. The summer museum by Susann Carson.

Figure 6. A building exploring the bodily theme of "cool," by Susan Russell.

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).

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.

Figure 9. 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.

Figure 12. Building detail by Iain Wylie.

Figure 13. 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 Alan Tang.

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 dispersed museum?

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.

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.

Figure 20 a to c. A building that plays on the variable transparency of planes, by Sam Harvey.

Figure 21. 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).

Figure 25. 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.