Web City

The ecological/web city discussed in the Lunch essay, Energetic Organizations, is described as a field of connections between energy production and consumption, the role of architecture playing a fundamental part as the built environment becomes more directly involved in the energy production and consumption process. Architecture, a “machine for living”, can become a living machine, producing its own energy and integrating into the landscape much like designs such as KieranTimberlake’s Sidwell Friends School, an “interior and exterior teaching landscape”. The landscape and building coexist and demonstrate larger systems, systems that can be applied to a broader scope, such as that of the city. Among other things, the building and landscape collect water, recycle water, respond to sunlight in exterior sunscreens, and utilize photovoltaics.

KieranTimberlake Sidwell Friends School

Living machines, transformable buildings, are becoming more prevalent and could possibly be the next era of architecture. The built environment is becoming more compatible with the natural environment, basing itself off of natural systems and forms that just work and optimizing performance based on changing conditions. It is almost surprising that it has taken us so long to realize that the best way to build is to mimic the system that works most efficiently, the natural environment, instead of fighting against it with HVAC systems and completely sealed structures.

Eventually, the city will come to mimic the web of interactions found in ecosystems, trading and reusing energy. The Bay Game that we played earlier in the semester made me realize my misconception of ecological systems. Initially, I diagrammed the interaction of different components of the bay ecosystem in a very linear fashion. I saw a simple structure of cause and effect, with a beginning and an end. By the end of the game, I realized that it was in fact a complex, cyclical web of exchanges, reuses, and mutual cause and effect. It was hard to pinpoint a particular causation. In order for humans to begin to counteract the negative effects our actions have had on the natural environment, we need to stop fighting against natural systems, stop fighting against the current and instead work with the flow of natural systems.

The practice of architecture is shifting in a similar way, from a very linear, one sided process to a more integrated approach, gathering input from multiple sources and specializations. It is going to be necessary to work alongside landscape architects, engineers, contractors, and material scientists if we are going to create an integrated built environment. The typical one-sided approach will come to resemble the web city.

This “web” is applicable at many scales: that of the city, where different areas of the city create smaller networks within the larger one, that of the ecosystem, where organisms exchange energy at varying scales, that of the built structure, which is integrated within the landscape and contains its own web of energy flows, even that of the individual, just one part of the larger web. All expand outward and present the possibility for further expansion.

the web at different scales

I think the most exciting and compelling part of this shift toward integration is the  evidence that new technolgoies are not always necessary. These same principles can be applied to communities that do not have access to resources like Hoberman’s emergent surfaces that respond to changing lighting conditions. A perfect example of this is Anne Haringer’s school in Bangladesh, which was constructed using old technologies, local resources, and responds to local climatic conditions.  This January I am traveling to Honduras with Global Architecture Brigades to build a school that we helped design with the same sort of considerations. Local materials will be used, simple, tradition construction methods employed, and local systems have been considered in the design.  I am excited to put the principles we have learned in Systems, Sites and Building into practice! I anticipate that this is just the beginning in integrated design considerations for myself and other architecture students here at UVA.


the Hoberman Sphere


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