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Philip Beesley

The Metastable Milieu explores a design manifesto that is devoted to open conversations and involvement within immersive environments. The presentation will include detailed examples authored by Philip Beesley and his collaborators within the Living Architecture Systems Group (LASG). Illustrated projects will include new work in progress for the Delft Science Centre, the Tilburg Textile Museum and the 2022 Grove Venice Biennale film and environment.

We are surrounded by rigid wall-building. Hardened crusts lie all around our built environment. Metabolites and tars and shells harden within radiant burning energy, the materials of skeletons and shells and anchors within our world stage. A hollow and brittle equilibrium of crystal shards creates walled communities and vitrified, calcified cores. When out-of-control natural and social environments cause pressure on human activities, it seems inevitable to harden and seal our spaces—to keep the world out in order to maintain safety and security within our own private, controlled ecosystems. Yet hardened walls can create turbulence that ultimately creates even more insecurity, both inside and outside. The need for security and the need for open sharing might seem to be ultimate contradictions.

How can we live together? Can architectural forms help to balance a deeply stressed environment and increasingly strained natural and social reactions?

The mid-20th century Belgian physicist and chemist Ilya Prigogine’s insights on the state of metastability play a pivotal role in framing this architectural conversation.  His groundbreaking 1978 Nobel Prize-winning research on dissipative structures introduced a novel perspective on entropy’s constructive and dynamic function within living systems (Prigogine, 1978). In this light, the metastable milieu, a delicate dance between order and chaos, draws a parallel to the architectural practices discussed in this talk. Such systems, balancing on the edge of stability, relate to the fluid, adaptive designs that aim to harmonize the contradictions of security and openness in our living spaces.

If designs are configured for uncertain conditions where acquiring and shedding heat play in uneven cycles, they can follow a common language of radical exfoliation. Diffusive form-language seen in reticulated snowflakes, heat sinks and the microscopic manifolds of mitochondria offer an alternate optimum to the perfect geometries of closed, classical conceptions of space. Writ large, these alternate forms speak of involvement with the world. Their increased surface areas can make their reaction surfaces potent. A new city built to be able to easily handle unstable conditions where it could shed heat, cool itself and then rapidly warm up and gain heat again might well look like a hybrid forest, where each building is made from dense layers of ivy-like filters and multiple overlapping layers of porous openings.

The metastable sculpture environments authored by Beesley and the LASG function as expressive testbeds, serving both ongoing practical research and public art functions.  At their core, these testbeds embody the spirit of open, interactive spaces which invite interdisciplinary dialogues and explorations. The terms boundary concepts and boundary objects frame these environments. The boundary concepts within this work serve as interpretative lenses that provide a universal framework, bridging diverse disciplines and helping to find common ground. In parallel, boundary objects include tools and touchpoints, both tangible or intangible, that make this interdisciplinary collaboration feasible. Together, these tools and frameworks set the stage for wide-ranging conversations that are central to the interactive environments and sculptures of the LASG.

Prigogine, I. (1978). Time, Structure, and Fluctuations. Science, 201(4358), 777–785. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1746122

Philip Beesley is a multidisciplinary Canadian artist and architect. Beesley’s research is recognized for its pioneering contributions to the rapidly emerging field of responsive interactive architecture. He directs Living Architecture Systems Group (LASG), an international group of researchers and creators. He is a University Professor at the University of Waterloo. His work has been featured twice at the Venice Biennale of Architecture (Hylozoic Ground – 2010, Grove – 2021).

The work of the Living Architecture Systems Group (LASG) evolves through collaborative exchanges with an international network of scientists, engineers, and artists, including engineering leads Rob Gorbet and Matt Gorbet, Iris van Herpen, Salvador Breed and 4DSOUND, among many others. This experimental architecture explores the subtle phenomena at the outer edges of current technology and has led to a diverse array of projects, publications, and open-source kits,  from haute couture collections to complex electronic systems that can sense, react and learn.

Pittsburgh live October 6 and 7

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Citation Data

Author(s): Philip Beesley
Year: 2023
Title: Metastable Milieu: Reflections on wicked challenges 
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD12
Article No.: pre-release
URL: https://rsdsymposium.org/metastable-milieu
Host: Georgetown University
Location: Pittsburgh, USA | ONLINE
Symposium Dates: October 6–20, 2023
First published: 15 July 2023
Last update: no update
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404