• Projects
      • Virtual Operation Room
    • Client
    • Techniek Museum Delft
    • year
    • 2002
    • Site
    • Delft, The Netherlands
    • Project team
    • Kas Oosterhuis, Michael Bittermann, Chris Kievid, Christian Friedrich, Sven Blokker
  • Virtual Operation Room, a time-based architecture for the augmented body

    Kas Oosterhuis, Chris Kievid, Christian Friedrich, Michael Bittermann, Sven Blokker



    The Virtual Operation Room is conceived as a future self-diagnostic tool and auto-curing health game. The goal is to heal the patient embodied in the avatar. This virtual environment was developed by ONL [Oosterhuis_Lénárd] in association with Hyperbody for an exhibition at the Delft Museum of Technology. Both are engaged in practice and research on interactive and e-motive architecture [1]. Just like cars, websites and other vehicles, buildings are becoming more and more sensitive and intelligent and starting to respond, act and surprise. In order to study and practice e-motive architecture, we build parametric environments and interactive interfaces to communicate with active worlds. Actual architectural concepts like e-motive architecture, time-based architecture, programmable architecture, freeform styling, swarm behaviour and genetic algorithms come together in this game. The challenging theoretical background is explained and the structure of the game for the Virtual Operation Room is demonstrated. The Virtual Operation Room features a responsive geometry that reacts to actions of the players of the game, whereas avatars embody the player. The Virtual Operation Room consists of an initiation body portal, representing the virtual operation room itself, from where the players can choose to enter three different bodily systems: the growing brains, the kidney purification plant and the peristaltic lymphatic system, using a joystick as input device. In each of these highly responsive and pro-active worlds, the player improves, heals and learns about the human bodily system by playing, acting, pointing at sweet spots, shooting cells, collecting bacteria and by killing cancerous growth. After having gained sufficient insight into the dynamics of the complex adaptive system of the sector by collecting points and thus improving the affected system, the player is transferred to one of the other sectors of his virtual body. The player experiences the self as an augmented body.



    The truly innovative architect designs for an open source swarm architecture in real-time. Building components are potential senders and receivers of information in real-time, exchanging data, processing incoming data, and proposing new configurations as the outcome of this process. People communicate. Buildings communicate. People communicate with people. People communicate with buildings. Buildings communicate with buildings. Building components communicate with other building components. All are members of the swarm, members of the hive. Swarm architecture feeds on data generated by social transactions; swarm architecture is the hive-mind of the new transformation economy. Swarm architecture is design, construction and operation in real-time. Architecture becomes the discipline of building transactions. Architects are step-by-step becoming conscious of the fact that they are the designers of intelligent vehicles, executing a game of life and death. Architecture no longer has the hidden agenda to resist external and internal forces. Architecture becomes the science of fluid dynamic structures and environments running in real-time. Architecture goes wild.


    You hear, see, smell, feel, taste, you process the information in your brains and other organs. This processing of information leads to the production of images and sounds, and you put other processed matter into the world. Information is always subject to a continuous process of transformation. Information never stops being processed. It is productive to imagine buildings and other products as running processes in real-time. And humans are part of that process. They trigger things, they catalyse, they vectorize, they open doors, and they close windows. They are themselves the switches. If one applies this notion of information processing to buildings and architecture, then one can think of buildings that are continually absorbing information, processing information and producing new information. None of these building bodies are isolated processing machines under any circumstance. They are all connected through the information flow. Connected to each other in the city, connected to the world through the Internet, connected to the users through the user's interfaces. The light switches, the doors, the windows, the computers, the television set, the seats, the stairs, basically everything which the user touches, is continuously displaced, changed and transformed. All processes run by animated bodies, buildings, products and users together play a key evolutionary role in the worldwide process of the formation and transformation of information.


    Virtual Operation Room

    The body portal world of the Virtual Operation Room is a working example of a spatially self-organizing built structure. It follows the paradigms of flocking: the elements of the structure react to each other and to environmental influences, by the application of a set of several simple rules. Out of the interrelated behaviours of the swarm members, the hive-mind emerges. Through it the swarm as a whole reacts to the environment as a higher intelligence, trying to achieve a state in which all swarming elements reach happiness in relation to one another, persistently improving the structure's integrity and strength within the changing environment. The self-organizing characteristics of the swarm are of great value to the efficient transmission of forces, energy and information, but the swarm also is an unpredictable, uncontrollable being. New structures continually emerge out of its complexity, bringing forth beauty, to our surprise and inspiration. Similar to Reynolds' flocking rules, the Virtual Operation Room establishes rules regarding the movement of its vertices, points in 3D space that constitute a surface. The combination of designed rules working on these vertices results in a complex behaviour and geometric-spatial transformations of the swarming surface, letting it ripple, crease and unfold in never-repeating complex patterns, which we cannot predict but intuitively understand since our daily environment behaves in similar ways. The Virtual Operation Room invites one to play, to touch and see what happens; to become one with the swarm. The swarm paradigm can be readily applied to environments in the realm of architecture. Imagine what would happen if all building components are conceived of as members of a swarm. The components keep an eye on each other, they know each other and cooperate to constitute a complex adaptive system. Relatively simple processors in the components perform the communication. The sum total of the communicating processors makes up a complex system that behaves consistently like a swarm. A relatively simple set of rules is needed as the procedural basis for the behaviour of the built environment.

    [Figure 1.]

    Another mode of parametric architectural design, one given special attention in Hyperbody, is genetic algorithms. This is a type of evolutionary algorithm that is useful for multi-dimensional optimization problems. The objective is encoded in a structure called a genome. These can be combined or mutated to create new individuals. Similar mechanisms are implemented in the growing brains world of the Virtual Operation Room. Changes in geometry rely on genetic algorithms. The main principle is based on a certain kind of self-replication, on different levels of the hierarchy. Each level is at the same time the output and the input of the same calculation, a principle known as fractal growth. In programming terms it is created by constantly going over another level of the hierarchy with the same calculation (Flake 1998). The beauty of this system lies in its simplicity. A tantalizing 3D virtual environment is created out of a single geometric object by doing nothing more than defining the principle on which it should be copied. We use a behavioural fuzzy-fractal approach to generate the typology of the structure. This initial object is copied, translated, scaled and rotated according to the genetic algorithm. In this algorithm, certain external factors are taken into account, making the growing brain-like structure responsive to its surroundings. The result is that the player experiences a uniquely formed geometric structure while navigating and playing the world. Evaluating the use of genetic algorithms in the realm of e-motive architecture, one can imagine an application, which adapts to building technology conditions by combining various calculation techniques. It could for instance adjust the amount and size of the structural parts according to its future use, giving the genetic algorithm, next to the advantages of the visual design, a technical use as well. The growing brains world shows that a built environment can be conceived of as a running process. The components of the built environment develop in relation to each other and in relation to the actors working upon them.

    [Figure 2.]

    Beyond changes in geometry, the Virtual Operation Room exposes interactive behavioural patterns and immersive qualities. We have the ability to envision highly immersive multi-dimensional continuous and spatial experiences. It seems that the age old dream of flying, of immersion, of bodily extension, of dissolving the human body's boundaries, resonates with the fascination for motion through relatively complex geometries, where the understanding of one's position and orientation and objective is not simply experienced in 2D. By relating the position of your eye to the converging lines of perpendicular architecture, you must make use of dimensions such as light, colour, sound, force, air and temperature flow. The identity of the self is modified in a space where elements that are normally relatively static, start to change relative to the self and other elements. The hyperskin reveals fully what is in your proximity and partially what is structurally more distant. However there are fewer nodal connections like doors, which, unless opened, form separate elements that reveal nothing of what is behind them, but create more a sense of outlet or throughput. There is a seamless progression without levels between containing spaces and connective spaces. In the peristaltic lymphatic system and the kidney purification plant worlds of the Virtual Operation Room, the player moves and is being moved at the same time. The position and the motional vector are affected by the flow of a virtual liquid, modelled by acceleration fields like magnetic attractors. Consequently the immersed self starts to feel merged with the vectorial volume of the space. Just like a butterfly in the wind or a seahorse in water. The rotational effect is calculated so as to basically simulate real world swirling in liquids. A pleasant immersive condition has to balance between confusion and clear understanding. It is on the edge between being rationally identifiable thus stimulating thinking and the idea of relative control, and being relatively complex so as to activate intuition, stimulating the body and the idea of being relatively controlled.[2]. Thus the immersion is truly affected by the modulating identification of the self. A self who can at certain moments incorporate properties of the space of other selves.

    [Figure 3.] [Figure 4.]

    The human capacity to rationalize, that is to represent information with relatively stable and identifiable quanta of information and to relate those quanta to each other in a logical fashion is not reserved merely for thinking. Or more concisely: feelings are also rational. There is an intrinsic logic to how we feel. It is not random. There is a constant feedback condition between what we perceive, how we evaluate our perceptions and how we will act and react towards this process. The interaction between the different sensitive systems, happening more or less consciously in the human self, generates a higher level of perception. However, beauty in this definition is neither reserved for the mere audiovisual realm nor for structural realm but is substantially present as behavioural beauty. In the case of the peristaltic lymphatic system world of the Virtual Operation Room, a special rendering of a point-cloud system is used to describe the skin of the hyperbody [3]. Every information quantum, the points in 3D space that constitute the hypersurface, negotiates in a swarming fashion. To speak of freeform refers in this case to the relative freedom of the skin components themselves, within their real-time interactive verification process. They form a highly interconnected, relatively autonomous, and finally intelligent device within the distributed being, formed of all components affecting this process. The swarm is never static, but a running process. Imagine a complex set of building components as specialized selections of a swarming point-cloud. Selected areas might become specialized as a swinging door, other areas might prefer to become transparent, or yellow, or warm, or bigger, or stronger. Selected areas grow, develop, and specialize in real-time in a running process, driven by data and operated by stakeholders in the running design process. Parametric relational swarm design forms the firm basis for interactive architecture and for the file to factory mass-customization production process as well. Architecture is seen as a running process; the collaborative design process is seen as an active world to play in and the stylists seen as actors in the connective network of the design process that is to be played with.

    [Figure 4.]



    The concept of collaborative design and engineering is facilitated by building a game, which opens up the design process of architecture, and building in real-time. You must run the process, and work in the process. Only then can you see and feel how beautifully complex the procedures are, and how precise and intuitive you must think and act in order to make it work for you. You must think as a programmer writing code. You must be as innocent and tricky as a child playing a game. Animals like to play. Humans like to play. Playing is an evolutionary tool to learn how to act and react in new situations. The game, whatever it might be, does not matter [4]. A game is highly structured information in a state of flow. If the game has been supra logical in the evolution of animals and humans, why shouldn't it be beneficial in the evolution of intelligent buildings? Why wouldn't an embodied game structure be exactly what is essential for the next step in the evolution of smart buildings? Buildings must become playful. They will test us, encourage us to react to their actions, and then act again. Only when both users and their environments are active, can a true interaction exist. As we have seen before, these buildings will be more than responsive, they will become pro-active. Casa ludens.



    1. Oosterhuis, K., Hyperbodies (Basel: Birkhäuser 2003).

    2. Flake, Gary William, The Computational Beauty of Nature: Computer Explorations of Fractals, Chaos, Complex Systems, and Adaptation (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998).

    3. Oosterhuis, Kas, 'Smart Skins For Hyperbodies', in: Techniques et Architectures 448 3/2000.

    4. Huizinga, Johan, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955).