Spark

The home of the future might constantly adapt to its residents

Beesley's group, Living Architecture Systems Group, challenges notions about building design and permanence.

Architect and sculptor Philip Beesley reimagines spaces as alive, reactive and responsive.

Panoramic view of central shell cluster and flanking canopies, Meander, Tapestry Hall, Cambridge, 2020 (Courtesy of Philip Beesley Architect Inc./Living Architecture Systems Group)
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Imagine if your home reacted to your arrival — not with a robotic Alexa or Google greeting, but by physically adapting to your presence to make you feel welcome. Hallways might self-generate as you need them, and rooms would reshape to suit your needs.

That's one idea that Philip Beesley and his team's work suggests.

Beesley is an architect and sculptor who leads the Living Architecture Systems Group, a Toronto-based collaborative practice that questions existing ideas of space and building design.

His work challenges some pretty set ideas about what our buildings are like; instead of thinking of them as inert blocks that separate us from nature and the world around us, what if we thought of them as porous, interactive, and responsive?

Beesley's projects are largely conceptual, existing at the frontiers of both art and materials science. (Courtesy of Philip Beesley Architect Inc./Living Architecture Systems Group)

"Things can shimmer and tremble and interact with the world in ways that are quite different than the kind of world of inert stone and bounded walls that we've been taught to make," he told Spark host Nora Young.

Beesley's projects are largely conceptual, existing at the frontiers of both art and materials science. As both a sculptor and an architect, he's interested in exploring — and pushing — the boundaries of interactive spaces, using both biological and fabricated material.

View of Sargasso cloud, Meander, Tapestry Hall, Cambridge 2020 (Courtesy of Philip Beesley Architect Inc./Living Architecture Systems Group)

The Living Architecture Systems Group is about to open an installation called "Meander" in a former industrial mill in Cambridge, Ont. 

Detailed view of central hemispherical shell cluster, Meander, Tapestry Hall, Cambridge, 2020 (Courtesy of Philip Beesley Architect Inc./Living Architecture Systems Group)

Beesley describes it as a cloud that hovers over the audience, with "multiple layers of transparent shells full of shimmering vibrating lights and fronds, and a whole field of dispersed sound making a kind of a forest-like experience that you walk through and look above and in and around."

Elevation view from mezzanine, Meander, Tapestry Hall, Cambridge, 2020 (Courtesy of Philip Beesley Architect Inc./Living Architecture Systems Group)

"As you walk through, arrays of sensors will track where you are and then will result in all kinds of shimmering, trembling vibrating paths opening out before you. It's perhaps a bit like the sensation of stroking a mimosa plant, which then collapses or perhaps moves in relationship to your own hands."

Beesley said the idea of hardened, separate spaces that isolate us from the "external" world deserves to be challenged. 

"I love the idea that really, what matters in making a building envelope is the pressure differential — and that can happen just as much through a little curtain of air as making a very very solid wall of bricks."

Elevation view of central shell structures, Meander, Tapestry Hall, Cambridge, 2020 (Courtesy of Philip Beesley Architect Inc./Living Architecture Systems Group)

Obviously, there are challenges to creating responsive living buildings that have to interact with existing concrete and steel infrastructure, and Beesley acknowledges that his ideas are largely conceptual, at least for now. But he is hopeful.

"I love the idea that rather than needing to hold on to the sense that we need to make things solid and durable, like a bastion against decay… the sense that things could be somehow playfully, confidently renewed in a constant flow."

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