Hylozoism, the belief that all things are imbued with life, goes back to pre-Socratic philosophers, who proposed metaphysical theories about the inherently animate nature of air, water and magnets, among other things. Skip forward a couple of millennia, and the material world has been revivified, only this time through technology. With the advent of smart devices and the Internet of Things, the future has much in common with those ancient beliefs; however, everything we build for tomorrow will not only be alive, but also intelligent.
Toronto architect Philip Beesley is a leading progenitor of “responsive architecture,” and his creation, Epiphyte Chamber, on display last year at Seoul’s Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, provides a glimpse into the shape of things to come.
Any description of his “near-living” environment starts with mechanics – servos, sensors and microprocessors – before inevitably shifting into the biological terminology of glands and pores. The assemblage of thousands of individual components reflects life’s complexity as it strives to simulate, on a magnified scale, a basic level of vitality. Beesley’s masses of translucent cells resemble clusters of microscopic phytoplankton made gigantic. Touching the fibrous whiskers that line the hanging tendrils elicits quasi-organic reactions that echo through the automated organism. It works through hundreds of simple responses to generate an enveloping experience of connectivity instigated by human presence.
Contemporary research into artificial intelligence is not simply in the pursuit of super-smart computers: it looks to primitive models of lifelike behaviour to replicate and interact with. The Epiphyte Chamber mimics sentience while speculating on the potential of our built environment to become living organism. In an uncanny way, it uses advanced technology and digitally fabricated parts to bring us back to nature and ourselves.
About the firm: Staffed with artists, scientists, architects and engineers, Philip Beesley Architect specializes in responsive and intelligent sculptural environments. Beesley recently collaborated with Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen on a line of computationally modelled dresses, launched in March during Paris Fashion Week. Team: Philip Beesley, Martin Correa, Jonathan Gotfryd and Andrea Ling with Rachel Armstrong, Sue Balint, Matthew Chan, Brandon Dehart, Rob Gorbet, Salvador Miranda, Connor O’Grady, Anne Paxton, Eva Pianezzola, Sheida Shahi, May Wu and Mingyi Zhou
What the jury said: “Epiphyte Chamber has a transformative character about it. Like a fairy tale, it explores biological issues and environmental issues, it talks about the future, it plays with the past…it ties so many things together.” – Winka Dubbeldam