Living City :: environmental responsiveness


The Living is a practice by David Benjamin and Soo-in Yang, which emphasizes open-source research and design, seeking collaboration both within and outside the field of architecture.

I saw their prototype for a responsive “breathing” building skin as part of the Vapor exhibition at Southern Exposure. As curators Jordan Geiger and Alison Sant wrote:

“Living City is a full-scale prototype building skin designed to breathe in response to air quality. David Benjamin and Soo-in Yang have been developing one of the first architecture prototypes to link local responses in a building to a distributed network of sensors throughout the city. The prototype will be exhibited at SoEx, opening and closing its gills in response to information the sensors collect.”

David Benjamin + Soo-In Yang, The Living City, prototype
David Benjamin + Soo-In Yang, The Living City, prototype, installation view, Vapor, Souther Exposure. via Shotgun Review

The breathing facade is an R&D project, essentially, of a larger investigation about the “living city,” which they see as

  • A platform for the future when buildings talk to one another
  • An exploration of the vitality of the city through new forms of public space—air and facade

Or as they subtitle their explanatory video Buildings Talk, “From the old model of local input with local output … to the new model of local and global input with local and global output.”

River Glow

Another environmentally responsive project The Living has prototyped is River Glow, “a network of pods that float in public waterways, sense water quality, and send a signal visible from the water or on shore.”

The Living, River Glow

Nuage Vert

River Glow, in particular, reminds me of HeHe’s Nuage Vert, which won the Green Prix for Environmental Art at the 2008 01SJ Biennial and is a literally spectacular effort to use responsive visualization to motivate the local population to change their electricity consumption patterns, thereby affecting the amount of pollution produced by a nearby powerplant.

HeHe, Nuage Vert

Fade to Black

A more conceptual, less spectacular, but nonetheless important version of responsively visualizing environmental conditions was the Bureau of Inverse Technology’s BANGBANG network from 2000, in particular the Fade to Black [FTB] node or capability.

“Fade to Black is a network of webcams oriented skyward. Image on the webcam fades to black as pollutant film accumulates on the lens. Provides visual and empirical information on air quality; viewable in live stream or archived [concatanated] format. Test deployments: Houston TX, Hollywood CA, Bronx vs Broadway NYC. Additional sites/host computers being actively sought. This project is part of the BangBang camera network.”