November 20, 2010

Tangential Progress

Wrote this for Zonal NASA 2010 Competition. I was told I won, but there was no certificate given. I like to believe I still did win. :)


What is time?

Time is defined as ‘one-dimensional quantity used to sequence events, to quantify the durations of events and the intervals between them.’ [1]
In modern physics, time is often referred to as the fourth dimension in accordance with the theory of special relativity proposed by Einstein. But how do you classify time as a dimension? Well, in the simplest terms, it is the addition of movement to an object in the three spacial dimensions. But the difference between time and the other dimensions is that time can only be positive. A body cannot be going backwards in time. [2]

How can time and thought be connected?
The word ‘thought’ when coupled with the word ‘process’ automatically adds the dimension of time to the activity of the mind.

How does the term ‘tangent’ connect to thought?
Have you ever wondered how in a span of a few minutes, your mind wanders through a vast variety of subjects, with no recognisable break in flow? That is tangential thought.
At one moment you may be thinking of chocolate ice-cream, and a few minutes later you’re thinking about owning an Aston Martin. How did that happen?
Chocolate ice cream-Italian gelato-gondolas-Titanic-Celine Dion-Canada-C N Tower-acrophobia-bungee jumping-Golden Eye-James Bond-Aston Martin
One thought moving onto another subject which has one point of connection. It is thought that is progressing in tangential planes to each other- Tangential thought.

How can tangential thought be applied?
The importance of idea and invention is proof enough that tangential thought is a necessity. What is progress without the initiative to progress? Where is the initiative to progress without the need to progress? And progress is the transition from past to present and present to future.

Does tangentially progressing thought need a tangentially changing environment?
They say, ‘What we think makes who we are.’ They also say, ‘What surrounds us influences our thought.’ So, if we are to believe that what they say is true, we can conclude that since people are changing, the environment is also changing.

How does the built environment change over time?
Change in terms of the built environment is over a large scale of time. It is change over years. Change due to styles, change due to function and change due to urban expansion. Change is grouped into era time frames: the Prehistoric era to the Neolithic era, Romanesque to Gothic era, the Modernistic to the Post-Modernistic.

Why does the built environment need to change along with the change in time?
Vitruvius emphasizes the relationship of a building not only to its site, but also to the users as they change from past, present to future. Don’t buildings live only as long as they serve a function? And how long is that? 

What is the difference between the paces of changes in thought progress and in the built environment?
There is no doubt about which is moving faster. Is the pace of change in the built environment able to keep up to the pace of thought progress? As the inhabitants change in mindset and lifestyle, is the habitat able to provide satisfactory change?

How can we minimise this difference in pace?
Can we immortalise a structure in such a way that it always serves to provide for the need(s) of its inhabitants?  If this can be achieved, is this tangential progress of the built environment?

Has this kind of immortality of a structure been done before?
Terms like multi-functionality, adaptability, dynamism, polyvalancy, flexibility, etc. have been used to inspire spaces to morph into the changes of its inhabitants.
~Strassgang housing project by architects Riegler and Riewe- ‘“Our intention when we designed was to have a room that would be too large to be an entrance and too small to be a living or bedroom, with a service area in the middle of the apartment, leaving the occupier free to choose how to use the series of rooms lying behind the facade.”’ [3]
~The Hague, designed by Michael Graves- ‘Here, the building to prolong its life, sheds its skin when the urban environment changes. The curtain wall facade almost acquires autonomy; it may be a part of the building but it may also help shape the urban fabric.’ [4]
~The Amsterdam canal- ‘These houses are able to keep accepting changes of function because of their oversized load bearing structure and floor area. In the 17th century, they were large dwelling houses with reception areas and rooms for domestic staff. In the 20th century, these were converted into offices and recently they were again converted into apartment buildings.’ [5]
~The Emotive house, Kas Oosterhuis. This house was designed incorporating virtual reality into the house. Sensors record changes in movement, weather, etc and translate them into particular actions: changing colours, light, textures, alignment of walls, position of windows, etc. [6]
~Army School, Kamaraj Road, Bangalore served as a barrack when it was initially built. Over the years, it functioned as a prison, a hospital and is at present an educational institution.
~XX Office, designed by Jouke Post- This office building is constructed out of dismantable reusable materials with demountable connections to change the frame of the building that can be adapted according to function. [7]

The above examples clearly show that there is a rising need for buildings of this sort: Buildings that morph, buildings that adapt, buildings that are flexible, buildings that are multifunctional and polyvalent.

What is the significance of such Architecture in time?
Time is not static. Neither is it backward. Architecture should withstand the test of time. Only time can tell change. Only change can tell architecture: change that moves from past to present, from present to future. It is a process that takes the good from one and connects it to a creation of something new. This change is a tangential process.


1. "Eric Weisstein's World of Science"
2. ‘Does the Fourth (4th) Dimension of Time Exist’, Gray Pilgrim
3. ‘Has architecture lost its use?’ S. Riegler (excerpt from Time-Based Architecture)
4. ‘Change and the Distribution of Design’, N. John Habraken
5. Excerpt from ‘Time-Based Architecture’
6. & 7. `Towards Time-Based Architecture’ Bernard Leupen  

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