I interviewed Iglessias at A/D/O, where Urban Imprint is installed in the courtyard and open to the public. We spoke before it was open, and thus I had to return in order to experience it myself. Essentially it is a strange little pathway that moves around you as you walk on it, the weight of your feet absorbed by the spongey pathway, and the ceiling, connected to the floor through a network of wires, lifts away from your head as you walk—it’s as if you were in a bubble traveling beneath the sea, except the sea is a metal network meant to imitate and critique a hard floor and stable ceiling. Frankly, it must be experienced to be fully understood, which is why, after speaking with Iglesias, I felt the need to walk around on it (it it?) myself.
Can you talk about the work?
The piece is called Urban Imprint, and it really came to being, we were contacted by the team at A/D/O who put up an installation for NYC design week, and the theme was how we look at our future self and urban environment, and one which is tethered more to nature, our human nature, and that’s not in conflict with it. That was a great question as a starting point for us, because everything we do in the studio is about redesigning our physical environment, to make it more interactive, more dynamic, so that we, cognitively, are closer to it and more in tune with it. So Urban Imprint is an evolution of our research, which we call is that of an augmented materiality—the idea, from an augmented reality or virtual reality, the idea that technology can be used to embed new capability in the physical and tangible and doesn’t necessarily only have to focus on the idea of simulating a reality or creating basically a dystopian future where we live in a headset. I think there’s a lot of ground to use our new tools, such as digital fabrication, to redesign the physical, and Urban Imprint is such a redesign.
We’re taking over the courtyard, and reimagining what an urban environment could be like if it wouldn’t be static, if it wouldn’t be pre-defined, and wouldn’t be something that we move around, but rather that the space forms around us. So it is a completely human-actuated installation, it’s kinetic, it is analogue, although we’ve used computational design to form a lot of the materials, we used traditional mechanisms, so it’s a combination of new and old, but the result is that it doesn’t require any power, it only comes alive with the visitors. The floor recedes, the roof opens up and you have a transformation of both form and light, so the space will always be unique to the person within it. That’s why it’s called imprint—it’s this idea that an urban environment will form around you and you will leave your imprint inside it, so I felt that this brings us closer to how we interact with the natural environment. If you think about how you are in a field in the woods, because a natural environment has taken its form from the needs of all its living elements, you’re always going to be in this passive interaction, where you’re going to be leaving your imprint of walking in the grass or if you open a pathway in the woods—an interaction that makes you feel that you have an impact, that you’re shaping your environment, makes you more attuned to your presence, and also makes you feel that you’re part of that ecosystem, you’re part of the shape and the form that this takes.
In our current urban environments, it’s the very opposite of that, it’s like somebody has poured us into this vessel of concrete and glass and we have to navigate a design that’s been given to us. The Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who wrote Delirious New York, has an amazing quote that says ‘the future of urbanism should not be about definitions, but about endless possibilities.’ It should be about, really, a flexibility that’s more in tune with the diversity of our psychological self, and our needs. So both bringing it closer to our human nature and our natural environment, Urban Imprint is sort of a live experiment in the physical form of very new and different urban environment. The space almost becomes an extension of your own body.
So the space moves?
It moves under your weight, your movement, your presence. It becomes a bit like a large architectural exoskeleton. But also, as you have different people within the space, their presence will also effect the form, because each person will create sort of like a cocoon around themselves, the space basically transforms. Digital tools have been used in its design, as I said, we’ve used steel and created a computational pattern that allows something as rigid as steel to become almost like a malleable fabric, a mix of concrete and rubber, so the materials have been formed—we’ve used technology to reform the materials—but the actual, final design, doesn’t have any censors, doesn’t have any digital signaling interrupting the interaction. It’s your body directly impacting the material. So it creates that very direct link between you and your physical environment, which something I’m very passionate about because it’s where I believe, when I talk about an augmented materiality, that these interactions, which are so rich and can tap into all of your senses, can be formed. We don’t always have to go to the digital or the intangible to get that, we can enhance and make the architecture of our physical environment more dynamic, which, if you think about it, we’re still far behind, it’s still quite static, we still have to demolish a building to create a new one, it doesn’t adapt to evolve, this table is still a static table. I think that we have so much new capability now, and that has opened so much room to reimagine how we design our physical environment.