• Projects
      • Muscle NSA
    • Client
    • mnam/cci Centre Pompidou Paris
    • year
    • 2003
    • Site
    • Non Standard Architectures exhibition, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
    • Design architect
    • Kas Oosterhuis
    • Kas Oosterhuis, Ilona Lénárd, Laura Aquili, Remko Siemerink
    • Design team Hyperbody
    • Bert Bongers, Chris Kievid, Sven Blokker
    • Engineering
    • ONL [Oosterhuis_Lénárd], D3BN, Festo AG & Co. KG, Buitink


    Architecture Non Standard (Centre Georges Pompidou Service Commercial,France, 2003)


  • Muscle NSA, a basis for a true paradigm shift in architecture

    Chris Kievid and Kas Oosterhuis


    Towards a Programmable Architecture

    For the Non-Standard Architecture exhibition in Centre Pompidou in 2003, invited by the curators Fr-éd-érique Migayrou and Zeynep Mennan, ONL [Oosterhuis_L-énárd] and Hyperbody applied the knowledge of the theoretical vehicle Trans-ports (Oosterhuis 2002) into a working prototype named Muscle NSA. This concept for a data-driven pavilion that changes shape and content in real-time was first exhibited as an installation at the Venice Biennale in 2000. The most important feature of the programmable Trans-ports pavilion is that architecture for the first time in history is no longer doomed to remain static after a dynamic design process. Our perception of the spaces in and around the building body can be programmed and driven and is therefore a subject for design).

    [Figure 1]

    This notion forms the basis for a true paradigm shift in architecture at the millennium shift. The paradigm of Programmable Architecture was born officially in 2003, appearing on the cover of the French daily newspaper Lib-ération (Lib-ération 2003). Due to the programmability of both form and information content, the construct becomes a lean and flexible vehicle for a variety of uses. Programmable buildings can reconfigure themselves mentally and physically. They are built constructs that are behaving in real-time. This new kind of building is not only designed through computation, it is a computation. A programmable structure never stops calculating, it keeps on fixing its position to preserve its balance or indeed to lose it, to relax or to brace itself. These constructs are running processes, input-output devices that are played by its participants. The Muscle NSA is a preliminary 'quick and dirty'  prototype of this new paradigm of people interacting with architecture.


    Inflatable body at Non-Standard Architecture exhibition in Centre Pompidou

    The Muscle NSA programmable building is a pro-active pressurized soft volume wrapped in a mesh of seventy-two tensile actuating components (Figure 2). By contracting the actuating components, the connecting nodes are displaced, modulating the shape and appearance of the volume. These actuating pneumatic fluidic muscles (© Festo AG & Co. KG) consist of a flexible rubber tube with an internal rhomboidal network of reinforced fibres. When air pressure is applied the cylinder expands laterally causing a longitudinal contraction, that is, the pneumatic muscle shortens just like an organic muscle.

    [Figure 2]

    In this prototype for a programmable structure, it is not the nodes which are directed to move, but the connecting muscles. They all work together like a flocking swarm of filaments in a muscular bundle each performing in real-time. The flock of muscles is programmed in such a way that all muscular actuators cooperate to perform a change. It is impossible for one muscle to change place without cooperating with the other connected muscles. Orchestrated motions of the individual muscles change the length, the height, the width and thus the overall shape of the Muscle NSA prototype by varying the pressure pumped into the seventy-two swarming muscles. The balanced pressure-tension combination bends and tapers in all directions, causing the Muscle NSA to constantly hop, twist, bend and rotate.


    The Muscle NSA never stops calculating the positions of its flocking nodes, based on input values from both the participants and from environmental forces acting upon the structure. The behaviour of the control nodes has become a running process, which keeps running when it has been built. The Muscle NSA keeps reconfiguring itself, and produces complexity and unpredictability in real-time.


    Emotive buildings are amplifiers

    The Muscle NSA is our first attempt at building an emotive building. Emotive buildings are programmable. They work as an amplifier of experiences and emotions (Oosterhuis 2003). An emotive building is an instrument played by its context and its users. Participants of the Non-Standard Architecture exhibition play a collective game to explore its different states.


    The public interacts by entering the interactivated sensorial space (Bongers 2002) surrounding the prototype. This invisible component of the installation is implemented as a sensing field created by a collection of sensors. These sensors create a set of distinct shapes in space that, although invisible to the human eye, can be monitored and can yield information to the building body. The sensorial space surrounding the installation is the interface of the data-driven prototype. The combination of the used sensors gives a smooth gradient of player/object connectivity. Stepping into the invisible playing field one is detected by the wide ranging beams of motion sensors, and one's attention is drawn through low resolution global spatial re-configurations and sound effects. Becoming curious, one wonders what it is this alien body wants from you. While approaching, one triggers the proximity beam, a stream of numbers reports exactly how far into the shape one is extending. Local and global skin gestures are displayed and the player engages with the vehicle. A spatialized audio-space arises out of the activities; this soundscape feels as if the body itself makes the sounds, as if it is a living organism at work. The extended interaction eventually leads to the most intimate action, physical contact. The touch sensors register the pressure applied and this sensed data results in personalized and player-intended local surface deformation and local sound actions.


    The continuous stream of sensorial data is analysed in real-time and acts as the input for behavioural operations that are instantly computed. The result is that the body senses the activities of the participants and starts responding with a diversity of emotive behaviours, experienced by them as changes in the physical shape of the active structure and the generation of an active immersive soundscape.


    To control the behavioural response of the body, a balanced pressure/tension combination is applied. Muscles that combined lead to a desired effect, such as skew, taper, bend, twist and shake, are placed into groups, allowing them to contract all at the same time (Figure 3). A series of these actuators put together actuates the complex programmable structure in real-time. Activation of certain sensors may lead to the bending of the Muscle NSA body, while other activations may cause a heavily shaking and vibrating effect. The internal state of the structure is calculated many times per second. The resulting signals, its genetic information, is outputted in the form of seventy-two digit strings to seventy-two connected valves that control the air pressure lock of a fluidic industrial muscle. Depending on the internal state of the system, certain presets are selected. However these presets are not fixed entities. On the contrary, they consist of many parameters such as frequency, duration, interval and weight. Combinations and repetitions of these global presets lead to unexpected, surprising and exciting results. When combined with the local user interferences the outcome is totally unpredictable and exciting to observe and engage in.

    [Figure 2]

    The sound environment receives its data directly from the sensor channels and indirectly from the spatial nodal configuration and the internal behavioural state. Pre-defined and pre-designed sound samples are activated and combined with thirty-six dynamically created nodal wave samples. The sound properties and samples change on the fly based on the presence of associated internal conditions. Physical spatial activities and combinations of sensor activations alter the associated sound parameters directly, resulting in a sophisticated sensual experience. Various base levels build a complex totality (effectuating powers) that in combination with the 'breathing sounds' of the inflating and deflating muscles fills the exhibition space with an orchestra of ambient sounds. One really feels the shape of the invisible space. Sound-space and physical-space become one.


    When sensors are connected to actuators in a system, then that system displays responsive behaviour. But responsiveness is not the goal, since essentially it is just responding to incoming requests. The ultimate goal is pro-activity, meaning that it senses and actuates because some internal force is driving it. Our intention is to develop an individual character for the Muscle NSA during its three month performance at the Centre Pompidou.


    The Muscle NSA is ONL [Oosterhuis_L-énárd]'s and Hyperbody's first materialized construct set up as a running system that displays pro-active behaviour and at the same time interacts with the public via its performance in the physical world. Looking at the Muscle NSA in operation, one gets the feeling that it is acting out of its own free will. It is unpredictable to the people who have programmed it, and unpredictable to the people playing with the running system. Since the free will of people in the end is the result of a complex set of in itself simple rules being executed by human brains in close cooperation with the human body, it seems perfectly fine to postulate that the Muscle NSA has a simple form of free will itself. If it is not possible to predict what Muscle NSA will do exactly, then it can only be the running system itself that decides in real-time. This project is the prototype for an environment that is slightly out of control. It is a prototype for a building, which is pro-active rather than responsive and obedient to the participant.


    Designers must think and act as programmers.

    The programmable Muscle NSA body can be best described as an interactive input-output device; a play station augmenting itself through time. It is a constant play of conjointly effectuating actions and reactions, of attraction and repulsion between all players involved. This game truly is a multi-player game. The public discovers within minutes how the Muscle NSA reacts to their actions, and soon after they start to discover a goal in the play. Now true communication is established, where the pro-active parties involved alternately sense, process, and actuate in this constant loop of mutual influence. The players experience this parametric game of architecture as a form of serious fun. The design is the formula, the playing of the game means setting the parameters.


    Architecture becomes a game and the users will be its players. Architects are the programmers of this game. For designing real-time constructs it is extremely important that the designer runs and works in the process and not just passively talks about it. Designers must think as a programmers writing code. In this project the design is the code, the designers are the programmers and the programming decisions are the design decisions and vice versa. We are becoming programmers of behaviours instead of makers of dead objects.



    The paradigm shifts towards programmable and interactive architecture have in our vision a similar goal. We do not design buildings like the Muscle NSA and Trans-ports to disturb people, but rather to offer a natural feeling of slowly changing conditions. 'Buildings, which display real-time behaviour, are essentially out of control. They start to behave unexpectedly, like the weather' (Brizzi, Oosterhuis 1999). They can transform slowly, or may eventually explode like a thunderstorm, the thunderstorm's function being to create a greater appreciation of the silence after the storm.


    For ONL [Oosterhuis_L-énárd] and Hyperbody these two projects have become anchor points for programmable architecture. From then on we were ready to lift the conceptual designers mind up to the next level, to the level of all possible interactions between all players in the game of building and architecture. Looking at the world from that level, no building can be seen as static, they all move, be it most of them extremely slowly and  stupidly. We have embarked on an architecture where all players, including all building materials, are seen as potential senders, processors and receivers of information and where all players communicate with members of their own flock and with other flocks in real-time.



    Brizzi, Marco and Oosterhuis, Kas. 1999. Il lato selvaggio dell'architettura, in Arch'it

    Bongers, Bert. 2002. Interactivated spaces. In: Proceedings of the symposium on systems research in the arts, Baden-Baden, Germany.

    Oosterhuis, Kas. 2002. Kas Oosterhuis Programmable Architecture. l' Arca Edizioni.

    Oosterhuis, Kas and Lénárd, Ilona. 2003. Vers une architecture -é-motive, in Architectures non standard. Editions du Centre Pompidou. Paris.

    Lib-ération. 2003. 24 december