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This paper reports on an ongoing experiment in design collaboration: an open collaborative realtime environment that enables participatory design activities in spatially distributed teams. The project builds on online platforms and open source ways of sharing design ideas, but also on recent advances in shared augmented reality enabled by game engine technology. Furthermore it focuses on combinatorial design of collaborative objects: the models shared in this way are not just geometric forms, but informed systems of parts with a procedural or combinatorial logic, an assembly strategy. By pooling and aggregating such intelligent assembly systems in a shared online realtime design space we are trying to move towards pervasive collaboration in architecture. Authors taking part in the project are united in a shared persistent design space and can design collectively. They experience what we refer to as tangible complexity: a playful mode of aggregating and combining design ideas of different authors. We argue that this pervasive collaboration can lead to novel types of complexity: an architecture of socially augmented formations.
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Pervasive Collaboration and Tangible Complexity in
Realtime Architecture
Alexander Grasser1, Alexandra Parger2, Urs Hirschberg3
1,2,3Institute of Architecture and Media, Graz University of Technology
1contact@alexandergrasser.com 2hello@nanadesign.at 3hirschberg@tugraz.
at
This paper reports on an ongoing experiment in design collaboration: an open
collaborative realtime environment that enables participatory design activities in
spatially distributed teams. The project builds on online platforms and open
source ways of sharing design ideas, but also on recent advances in shared
augmented reality enabled by game engine technology. Furthermore it focuses on
combinatorial design of collaborative objects: the models shared in this way are
not just geometric forms, but informed systems of parts with a procedural or
combinatorial logic, an assembly strategy. By pooling and aggregating such
intelligent assembly systems in a shared online realtime design space we are
trying to move towards pervasive collaboration in architecture. Authors taking
part in the project are united in a shared persistent design space and can design
collectively. They experience what we refer to as tangible complexity: a playful
mode of aggregating and combining design ideas of different authors. We argue
that this pervasive collaboration can lead to novel types of complexity: an
architecture of socially augmented formations.
Keywords: Collaborative Objects, Realtime Architecture, Tangible Complexity
01. Pervasive Collaboration
For quite some time now, economical, societal, cul-
tural as well as architectural production has been
moving towards distributed production. The current
global pandemic has accelerated this tendency, but
it didn’t create it. It was already there. Carlo Ratti de-
scribes the shift from traditional media like newspa-
pers and television to the interactive world wide web:
Media became dialogue rather than monologue, and it
was at this moment that humanity began coming to-
gether as a real village, with shared culture, ideas, and
discussion.(Ratti 2016, p.15)
The distributed networks of the digital era, the
global access to data and information, the interplay
of its part to part, peer to peer and part to whole rela-
tionships across space and time-zones have changed
society in unprecedented ways. The resulting am-
biguous relationship, in this global village, of ‘ambi-
ent’ proximity and ‘real’ separation, is currently shift-
ing us towards a Tele Society, as Peter Weibel re-
cently claimed:“The age of proximity is coming to an
end. (Weibel 2020) In his concept of a Tele Society,
an early media theory on the impact of computa-
tion, networks and media on society, the ubiquity of
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global communication and pervasive collaboration
will undermine the current need for proximity. In
this transformation, the former media of communi-
cation, the image, gets augmented towards a virtual
realtime environment as Weibel argues on the iconic
turn: “Placeless, without the existence of an original,
the image becomes an interface for the actions of differ-
ent people in real time. In multi-user environments, nu-
merous people in different locations communicate with
each other via different visual environments. In the fu-
ture, however, events in the virtual world will also have
an impact on the real world.”( Weibel 2007, p.225)
Realtime pervasive collaboration can be highly
dynamic and productive. Carlo Ratti points to the
‘space of flows’by Manuel Castells: “The space of flows
is the material organization of time-sharing social prac-
tices that work through flows. By flows I understand
purposeful, repetitive, programmable sequences of ex-
change and interaction between physically disjointed
positions held by social actors. (Ratti2016, p.15) Today
we become more and more familiar with these virtual
environments, from open source, to crowdsourcing,
to social media, to any platform or application, that
enables user generated content. Collective creativ-
ity and distributed knowledge is an important factor
of this diverse user generated content. Arguably, the
difference between collective and individual creative
efforts is most distinct when it comes to dealing with
extremely complex tasks.
Of course the notion of collective creativity chal-
lenges the idea of authorship in architecture. Open-
ing up the design process, by enabling a pervasive
collaboration on a realtime architecture platform, the
materialized digital information becomes the prod-
uct of a shared design workflow. While the digital
process permits to keep records of every individual
contribution, in an ideal space of flow, this discern-
ment no longer matters. The collective output is the
reward and incentive for every individual input. It’s
an Architecture of shared authorship: “No individual
is master(original) over another(copy), but ratherall are
equal clones. ( Weibel 1995, p.204) The result is a de-
mocratization of design thinking. As far back as 1967,
architect and urbanist Yona Friedman, created The
Flatwriter, a software conceived to enable users to
design the plan of their future homes in Friedman’s
Ville Spatiale. The Flatwriter is an early precedent
for this kind of distributed collective project: “The
Flatwriter thus puts a new informational process be-
tween the future user and the object he will use, it allows
for almost limitless individual choice, and an immediate
opportunity to correct errors without the intervention of
professional intermediaries. (Friedman 1980, p.60)
The architectural platform we describe in this pa-
per sets out to test Weibel’s idea of a multi-user envi-
ronment in realtime. This interface aims to create a
‘space of flows’ of participatory architectural design
and pervasive collaboration.
02. Tangible Complexity
“Buildings were once materialized drawings, but now,
increasingly, they are materialized digital information
- designed with the help of computer-aided design sys-
tems, fabricated by means of digitally controlled ma-
chinery, put together on site with the assistance of digi-
tal layout and positioning devices, and generally insep-
arable from flows of information through global com-
puter networks. (Mitchell 2005, p.41)
In his introduction to a theory on complexity in
architecture, William Mitchell proposes architecture
as materialized digital information, as a consequence
of distributed information and knowledge in global
computer networks during the whole process of ar-
chitecture, from design to fabrication and construc-
tion. He argues furthermore that the complexity of
an architectural project arises as a balance between
repetitive and non-repetitive construction elements,
which leads to architectures of high or low complex-
ity. To further expose the interplay of these archi-
tectural elements, as a methodological framework,
Mitchell synthesizes the construction of architecture
to: “Generally, construction operations can usefully
be subdivided into fabrication operations that produce
discrete elements and assembly operations that com-
bine discrete elements to produce systems. (Mitchell
2005, p.42) In this context, he evaluates the final com-
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Figure 1
Tangible
Complexity
plexity of an architectural project based on the de-
sign content, which can be understood as the added
value, or design content, during each of these opera-
tions, on the production of the discrete elements, as
well as the assembly of these elements. This also ap-
plies when analyzing the behavior of added design
content of a designer:“A designer may assume prefab-
ricated elements, or even pre-assembled complete sub-
systems. In doing so, she not only establishes a starting
point for addition of construction content, she also in-
herits design content.”(Mitchell 2005, p.42)
At this point we identify the potential to ex-
pand this conceptual production of an architectural
project, by opening it up to a realtime environment
of pervasive collaboration. A space of flows, where
multiple distributed authors with varying expertise
can contribute to a shared design, and therefore
add design content as well as aggregate design con-
tent. This architecture of pervasive collaboration al-
lows for multi- objective and multi- subjective plan-
ning. Hereby the added value can increase the over-
all complexity of a project, by at the same time, keep-
ing the complexity of assembly operations low, but
highly informed. For example context sensitivity em-
braces the designers to adapt it’s assembly to a wide
range of parameters and therefore results usually in
a higher complexity. More precisely context can be
broadened as we speak not only about the location,
material, weather condition etc. of the architecture,
but also the history, knowledge, local expertise and
experience of the collaborators themselves. This in-
herited design content could hold the information
about the material composition of the part, or geo-
logical information of the site, the parameters that
influence the assembly and design process before-
hand. The added value gets applied by the designer
at the moment he uploads the objects to the persis-
tent environment.
The assembly of repetitive discrete elements,
which was often defined by a singular logic of assem-
bly operations and led to projects of low complex-
ity, can now be enhanced by enabling participatory
design in a real-time pervasive environment. Where
local design decisions and adding of design content
and value to the singular part, as well as the adding
of design content and value to the assembly oper-
ations to construct informed aggregations of parts,
results in an architecture of aggregated design value.
Therefore this opens up the possibility of an architec-
ture of high complexity, with inherited design con-
tent of repetitive elements, based on the expertise on
the local design decision, which leads to a tangible
complexity of an architecture of socially augmented
formations.
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Figure 2
Realtime
Architecture
Platform
Screenshot
03. Realtime Architecture Platform
Finally this research proposes a case study applica-
tion of an open Realtime Architecture Platform, to en-
able pervasive collaboration and tangible complexity
in participatory architecture.
Our research builds on the experiences of pre-
vious research and projects. Since the mid 1990ies,
similar platforms were developed to enable a free
flow of ideas and collective authorship, among oth-
ers so-called virtual design studios, a term coined
by Mitchell in 1993. (ref. Bradford, Wojtowicz,
Schmitt, Kolarevic, Schnabel, Wenz) Moreover it’s fol-
lowing a recent research project ‘VoxelCO- Playing
with Collaborative Objects’(Grasser 2019), where an
architectural application was developed for an aca-
demic workshop seminar in 2018. There, participants
could collaboratively design, instantiate and aggre-
gate digital voxels using shared augmented reality
in realtime. In that case study the participants were
in a seminar room while playing, collaborating and
moving around to design the voxel formations. This
spatial close proximity to each other provoked de-
bates on local design decisions while designing the
virtual aggregated voxel formations. Furthermore
based on those virtual design sessions, modular wire
cubes were positioned with the help of mobile phone
augmented reality holographic overlay, to construct
some of those voxel formations.
Realtime Architecture Platform is exploring ways
of pervasive collaboration and production of an ar-
chitectural project in a distributed realtime envi-
ronment. Therefore embracing the tele society of
shared authorship, which goes beyond the com-
mon distance collaboration tools like webcam meet-
ings (zoom, skype) or virtual desk critics. A promis-
ing mode of production in architectural practice and
academia for post- pandemic times. It’s empower-
ing distributed realtime design and collaboration to-
wards generating tangible complexity.
The platform, a custom desktop application de-
veloped by the authors, is built as a virtual environ-
ment where participatory designers can join realtime
design sessions. When entering the platform, de-
signers can collaborate, inform, update and instanti-
ate objects to a persistent shared environment. It’s
proposing an architecture based on discrete repeti-
tive elements and assembly operations, represented
at the platform as Collaborative Objects.
These Collaborative Objects, the discrete ele-
ments, parts or clones, function as simple blocks of
information, which can be further detailed, informed
and replaced at any stage (like a block in a caad soft-
ware, a game-object clone in a game engine, or ob-
jects in object oriented programming). Users can
place these objects at discrete connections, collision
detection avoids overlapping. These conceptual col-
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laborative objects can be informed by the participa-
tory crowd with design value and expertise. They can
be instantiated and cloned individually or following
usergerated assembly operations(assembly of parts
and design content), therefore constructing a tan-
gible complexity of socially augmented formations
(aggregated assembly of parts and design content).
Therefore, by opening up the design process and
inviting a high number of collaborators and authors,
the registration of each act of adding design content
and value, influences the global decision making and
the resulting form.
This ‘space of flows’ becomes even more visible
as the platform displays the participating avatars in
the virtual environment moving around. Multiple
layers of information on the data of each instantiated
part and assembly of parts, colored by their user, as
well as an integrated chat function to enable realtime
communication and open discussion at any moment,
represent a highly informed, interactive and perva-
sive design environment. It enables highly adaptive
bottom up design strategies, as an embodiement of
the live action and reaction of the crowd. Further-
more we choreographed different layers of access
to contribute to the design by adding global con-
staints and hierachies to the platform, influencing the
behaviours of the online collaborators. This mode
of interactive production can lead to a more human
centered architecture. This engaging open platform
that enables user generated content, allows for real-
time interaction and feedback and evokes a mode of
‘messing around’: “This is a more participatory level of
engagement, where the user is more actively exploring
the digital realm for information, and has a transitional
scope which is characterized with the user manipulat-
ing and creating multimedia content. (Ariel 2017, p.81)
Implementing many factors, actors and param-
eters in the design process whilst analyzing the col-
laborative assembly can be a challenging act. To em-
brace even more user created content and not over-
whelm the collaborators in an distributed production
workflow, an Augmented Reality system solution was
applied.
Figure 3
Socially Augmented
Formations
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Figure 4
Shared Mobile
Augmented Reality
What Augmented Reality(AR) differentiates to a
Virtual Reality(VR) is the main link to the tangible
world. An added information layer is distributed dur-
ing the collaborated process in real time. This added
information can be seen as another layer of added
design value as the playground is itself the platform/-
context but also setting the rules and relationships
between part to part and part to whole. The plat-
form is a playground and playbook in one. As the
added information is transformed and adapted the
rules and assembly operations of informed assembly
of parts, are written during the design process con-
cluding in an ever changing and accumulating level
of complexity. Therefore, the cross-platform applica-
tion allows for participation and play on PC, as well as
provides Augmented Reality on mobile phones and
a HoloLens to blend the digital information as holo-
graphic representation with the real. Making the per-
vasive collaboration on producing architectural pro-
totypes of tangible complexity even further tangible
by blending it with our distributed environment.
The Realtime Architecture Platform was applied
as a case study research with a group of 20 master
students. It enabled them to collaboratively work
in realtime on a common architectural prototype, as
well as individual group projects. Eventhough tele-
teaching challenged us, while using multiple soft-
wares, like Rhino, Grasshopper and Unity and their
corresponding complexities. The overall high level of
realtime interaction and communication during de-
sign sessions led to a highly appreciated collabora-
tive design.
In conclusion the pervasive collaboration of ob-
jects, designers, and information at shared realtime
participatory platforms, results in a multi- objective
and multi- subjective informed architecture of high
complexity by inheriting and aggregating design val-
ues of repetitive discrete collaborative objects, to en-
able socially augmented formations of tangible com-
plexity.
4. Credits
Realtime Architecture Platform: Alexander Grasser
Collaborative Matter(s) Tutors: Alexander
Grasser, Urs Hischberg, Alexandra Parger
Collaborative Matter(s) Student Tutors: Eszter
Katona, Kilian Hoffmann, Nora Hoti
Collaborative Matter(s) Students: Alina Boss, An-
gelika Bernhart, Anton Kussinna, Constanze Feit-
zlmayr, Daniel Buchacher, Donia Elmenshawi, Fe-
lix Zitter, Francesco Doninelli, Franciska Kozul, Ja-
nine Witzany, Julie Belpois, Kenan Isakovic, Kerstin
Grangl, Kilian Hoffmann, Maria Matthäus, Max Früh-
wirt, Sebastian Meisinger, Ronald Tang Pak To, Tilen
Sagrkovic
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Figure 5
Realtime
Architecture
Collaborative
Matter(s)
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Weg zur Telegesellschaft’, in M aar, Christa and Burda,
Hubert (eds) 2007, Iconic Turn. Die neue Macht der
Bilder, DuMont, pp. p.216- 226
Wenz, F. and Hirschberg, U. 1997 ’Phase(x) Memetic En-
gineering for Architecture’, Challenges of the Future,
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versity Press
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... This leads to a closed-form that loses its ability to be further reconfigured. Whereas non-deterministic latent structures provide a framework that can follow individual sets of rules and customized patterns of an assembly logic, which follow a bottom-up logic of local design decisions, enabling an architecture of tangible complexity (Grasser, Parger, Hirschberg 2020). Therefore the planning of open structures could enable community engagement where: " the completion of collective form overtime does not lie with the single authorship. ...
... Change and improvement play an important role in the sessions, as users need to react in realtime to local design decisions. Furthermore pervasive collaboration (Grasser, Parger, Hirschberg 2020) and communication within the group are embraced, as different spatial configurations of parts can be discussed and improved. The assembled structure is a network of relationships between collaborative objects in space and time. ...
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This year's conference theme`Towards a new configurable architecture`, provides a good starting point for reappraising and reapplying previous concepts of Configuration' in architectural design. The concept reappears often, but was particularly powerful whenever new computational tools and architectural concepts emerged and revealed strong synergies. In the 1960ties there was such a moment when configuration's pluralistic properties embraced architectural concepts of structuralism and early computing. Therefore this paper looks back at previous concepts of configuration to identify capacities that could inform current synergies of computational tools, such as open platforms, and architectural concepts of the second digital turn in architecture. The way we communicate, access, and exchange information recently accelerated towards realtime sharing of data, bits & pieces, and experiences. Open platforms that enable user-generated content and collective production of value are becoming more common in design. This paper discusses ways in which this collective content production can enable a computational and human-centric architecture, by reappraising previous concepts of configuration such as: open configurations, latent structures and variable infills.
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This project proposes a realtime architecture platform. It's based on previous research on collaborative architecture (Grasser 2019) as well as research on combinatorial design (Sanchez 2016), digital architecture (Carpo 2013), and discrete mereologies (Koehler 2019). The platform was applied in a design studio at the Institute of Architecture and Media at Graz University of Technology with 20 Masters students. Due to restrictions of the global pandemic, we worked in a distributed mode of telepresent teaching. The implementation of this new working method further accelerated the focus on digital collaboration in architecture. Using the platform to collaborate in real time, the Collab Wood prototype was designed and realized.
Augmenting Alice: the future of identity, experience and reality
Ariel, Galit 2017, Augmenting Alice: the future of identity, experience and reality, BIS Publishers Friedman, Yona 1980, Toward a Scientific Architecture, MIT Press Grasser, Alexander 2019 'Towards an Architecture of Collaborative Objects', Proceedings of the 37 ECAADE & SIGraDI 23 Conference, Porto, pp. p.325-332
The 24 Hour Design Cycle: An Experiment in Design Collaboration over the Internet
  • U Hirschberg
  • G Schmitt
  • D Kurmann
  • B Johnson
  • D Donath
Hirschberg, U., Schmitt, G., Kurmann, D., Johnson, B. and Donath, D. 1999 'The 24 Hour Design Cycle: An Experiment in Design Collaboration over the Internet', CAADRIA '99 [Proceedings of The Fourth Conference on Computer Aided Architectural Design Research in Asia, Shanghai, pp. p.181-190
Virtual Design Studios
  • J W Bradford
J.W., Bradford 1994 'Virtual Design Studios', in:The Virtual-Studio: Proceedings of the 12th European Conference on Education inComputer Aided Architectural Design, Glasgow, pp. p.163-167
Constructing Complexity' , Computer Aided Architectural Design Futures
  • William J Mitchell
Mitchell, William J. 2005 'Constructing Complexity', Computer Aided Architectural Design Futures 2005, Vienna, pp. p.41-50
Digital Doubles: From the Copy to the Clone
  • Peter Weibel
Weibel, Peter 1995, 'Digital Doubles: From the Copy to the Clone', in Eibelmayer, S. and Fleck, R. (eds) 1995, Original, Salzburg, pp. p.187-211
Ortlosigkeit und Bilderfülle -auf dem Weg zur Telegesellschaft
  • Peter Weibel
Weibel, Peter 2007, 'Ortlosigkeit und Bilderfülle -auf dem Weg zur Telegesellschaft', in Maar, Christa and Burda, Hubert (eds) 2007, Iconic Turn. Die neue Macht der Bilder, DuMont, pp. p.216-226
Phase(x) Memetic Engineering for Architecture
  • F Wenz
  • U Hirschberg
Wenz, F. and Hirschberg, U. 1997 'Phase(x) Memetic Engineering for Architecture', Challenges of the Future, Proceedings of the 15th ECAADE Conference, Vienna Wojtowicz, J. 1995, Virtual Design Studio, Hong Kong University Press