9780262033954Architectural Robotics - Ecosystems of Bits, Bytes, and Biology takes readers beyond building information systems (BIM) into the future where more fully integrated built environments become interactive and dynamic from a cyber-human perspective. A remarkable read, the book explains how sensors, design, architecture, computation and human factors integrate and will likely venture into places and ways that we are only beginning to understand and see now. 

Architectural Robotics

Ecosystems of Bits, Bytes, and Biology


Keith Evan Green

MIT Press

288 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 70 b&w illus. | ISBN: 9780262033954


Reviewed By

Jeff Thurston

In a world of smart technologies and rapid innovation that delivers new technological experiences every day, humans are constantly being challenged to live with and interact with technology in new ways. Architectural Robotics - Ecosystems of Bits, Bytes, and Biology describes the evolution of robotics into architectural systems. To understand this relationship, one needs to consider the current fascination with digital cities and their developmental phases that are likely to involve more technology, including robotics, in the future. Computing technology is driving this interaction as more and more data is being integrated into everyday devices. 

Suddenly door openers, lighting, cooling and movement of automated services are being integrated into architectural structures and infrastructure. The author calls these 'Spaces of Many Functions'  where the so called cyber-physical environment interacts and becomes more visible daily. Intelligent environments can upgrade and reconfigure themselves. Humans may change environments or technology may deduce what changes are needed and suddenly alter environments. Beyond mere environmental sensing, what if furniture moved and arranged itself in optimal fashion? What if interior design reflected changeable walls and material suggestions according to personal likes and dislikes automatically?

Three case studies are evaluated and described in the book.

  • The Reconfigurable Environment (Makes Room For Many Rooms)
  • The Distributed Environment ( Where Furnishings Come to Life)
  • The Transfigurable Envnironment (a Portal To Elsewhere)

The concept of shapeshifting is not new, however, many of us think of this term following a sci-fiction movie analogy that includes people mostly. In terms of this book, such shifting involves things. While designers often think in terms of stable and singular events, such shifting gives rise to a different way about thinking of design. If you knew your design could change, how would you design it to begin with? In part, some of these challenges are already with us, for example, re-painting a room or adding an addition to a porch or changing materials of items in a structure. In architectural robotics terms, the cyber-human interaction involves touch, sensing and interaction that stimulates interaction and causes reaction. 

The author suggests that architects and architectural spaces have been largely resistant to change. In most cases designs are built to last - forever - more or less. They are also intended to be left alone and not altered. Would you add an addition to the Freedom Tower, 30 St Mary Axe or the Burj Kalifia? Yet, Architectural Robotics brings directly into question the issues of technology versus human intent - or is it human need? Do we even know how far a structure would go in re-designing itself using computational tools and artifical intelligence?

The new workflows are bound to enlighten, challenge and cause us to ponder, wonder and watch in new ways. Although this book includes several references to historical approaches and philosophical insight about design and architecture, it places that knowledge against a backdrop of new and experimental wonderment of new sensing, computational and robotic possibility. This is referred to as Animated Work Environment (AWE) sometimes.

Architectural Robotics also gives rise to new notions for education, training and learning. What previously existed mainly on paper, under computational intelligence can now involve more fully digital interaction. Perhaps building information modeling (BIM) is the very early stage of architectural robotics, since it is founded in the concept of 'going digital' and making infrastructure workflows and lifecycle based on computational design - often through procedural modeling. Furthermore, AWE will require an understanding of the placement of workers within these environments so as to gain maximum efficiency and interaction with tools and computational interfaces. 

As this book suggests, we mostly acquaint robotics with industrial connections. However, AWE would involve the use of those kinds of robotics into every day life. The kinetics or motion of robotics in such new cases would need to be designed with a view to a wide variety of spaces, not just industrial spaces. Users suddenly find themselves immersed into spaces neither in work or home settings, but into spaces that reflect both. It is the home where the most creative spaces using AWE are likely to arise. They can traverse reality with the past, the future or even bring environmental change within themselves that take home dwellers to whole new worlds and spaces. Smarter tables, chairs and walls will have remarkable abilities to alter senses, provide services and yet reflect artistic attraction in whole new ways. Hospitals are already embarking onto this course with furnishings and robotics instilled into rudimentary products including rehabilitative robotics.

On the Transfigurable side, if one gets tired or bored with a particular environment it could be changed to reflect a new perspective, changing mood or perhaps showing the past in a reflective, soothing way. Some of these things are already with us, mood aligning bricks in tunnels, waterfalls iin airports and adjustable lighting to movement. But architectural robotics is much more expansive and interactive to the individual ( or group) and includes cyber-human capability.

In summary, Architectural Robotics - Ecosystems of Bits, Bytes, and Biology is extremely interesting to read. It includes the future in a way that we can almost see right now, but do not quite understand, and the author fills in the pieces about how it will unfold and become more real in the future. I found myself re-reading many parts of this book because it is so fascinating and filled with information that attempts to explain and elicit understanding. 

This book is exceptional for content. There are drawings, explanations and descriptions about the cyber-human future. The author has done a remarkable job of attempting to take a complex subject and reduce it to understandle bits. At a time when we are bombarded with 'smart' everything, the future does not seem clear. This book connects dots, provides information about the possible way forward and explains what many of us are only beginning to see at the moment. This book is very high on the must read list.