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Cluster Focus: Talking to Andy Payne Architect

Architosh talks to architect Andy Payne at Smartgeometry 2011 at Copenhagen

It’s day one for me in Copenhagen and after a short one hour nap back at the hotel, where Bentley put up a global press corp, I am now talking to architect Andy Payne, one of the cluster champions for the Use the Force workshop. (see separate article on Workshops).  He is explaining to me how his software, Firefly, works to communicate sensor data from Arduino boards to a program called Kangaroo, which itself is a plugin for both Grasshopper and Bentley’s Generative Components (GC).


Andy, who is dressed in a white shirt and jeans, is all smiles and positive energy. Visually excited about the conference and the work of his cluster he explains how they built the sensorized black floor that sits on the ground (in the Hall) in front of a large projected screen. “The sensors can detect not just force but movement data also,” says Andy. I’m walking on the floor myself, pushing my feet down to deflect the floor. It’s interactive–it’s fun! My eyes are clearly forward, looking at a 3D visualization of the floor as a parametric mesh of vertices. (see image 01) I’m not sure if I’m looking at GC or Grasshopper but it doesn’t matter all that much for what is happening in this cluster.

Andy Payne is a licensed architect who is currently pursuing his doctoral degree at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. His work explores embedded computation and parametric design, which in essence is what all the work at this conference this year is mostly related to. His doctoral research is studying how advancements in technology can help architects create spaces and systems that have a “capacity” to meet changing individual, social and environmental demands.

01 - This parametric model is interactively wired to a mock floor surface which detects force and movement.

“All buildings will have sensors and talk to other buildings some day.” Andy remarks. I ask him what kinds of things will buildings say to each other, half creating a joke out of the question. He laughs…understanding the humor embedded in my skepticism. “It’s not that they will talk so much as share data,” Andy says, “like environmental and occupant data, for example.”  For instance, in the future buildings filled with sensors like the kind explored in this Smartgeometry conference will be able to constantly monitor their internal and external environment, including agents and microclimatic information.

In an urban environment, one building may want to anticipate and respond to a seasonal temperature, combined with an afternoon shading by a nearby building, combined with a sudden but planned occupancy change, to affect internal environmental changes in preparation for those inter-related data.

02 - This polyhedron model is wired-up to an Arduino board. The board has a light which lights up in reaction to tension forces in a wire connecting two joints.

Andy is now pressing down on a joint on a physical model (called “analog” at this conference) of a space-frame. (see image 02 above) The construction of this analog model consists of flexible clear plastic tubes connected with multi-faceted metal joints which enable the polyhedron to transform and adapt in reaction to forces. A wire is spanning between two joints and because of Andy’s pressure on another joint the wire gets put into tension. This tension is then detected and measured and sent to an Arduino board that is sitting next to the analog model and wired up to it. A USB port from the Arduino board sends a signal to a computer and to Andy’s software Firefly.

It’s a little test model and its useful to the types of processes his cluster is developing and experimenting with here in Denmark this year. Andy presses down again as I take a picture. “See the light?” he says, smiling. “Yes,” I respond. The light glows more in response to his hand’s pressure, a symbol of this group’s energy, hard work, innovation and brilliance.

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