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Astrospatial architecture: Beyond terrain

What is ‘astrospatial architecture’? It’s a neologism coined to highlight how astrospatial (space navigation) technology and geospatial (Earth-recording) systems are disrupting traditional ways of designing buildings.

For the first time in history, architecture is not epitomised by inert monuments of masonry or towers of steel and concrete. Today’s buildings remain structurally solid, and often awesome, but they also throb with flows of electronic information, conducted via light waves and activated by networked semiconductors in squillions of data-computing devices.

MIT’s Responsive Environments Lab, led by Joe Paradiso, devised this AR architectural model using data recording atmospheric and other invisible conditions inside the real Media Lab facility.

Pulses of light are refreshing architecture’s Vitruvian ideals of commodity, firmness and delight. These are not Louis Kahn’s silent sunbeams enlivened by his bricks and concrete. These are all the wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, from ELF (extra-low-frequency) to gamma.

Most waves from the Sun’s radiance are invisible to people, yet all carry intelligence about our planet, and the universe, which can be communicated to our computers on Earth through sensor-equipped devices aboard satellites.

Sydney’s Lot 1 cafe fitout, with cappuccino-inspired swirls designed by Enter Projects, was assembled from laser-cut, laminated plywood. (Brett Boardman.)

All architects use telecommunications and geographic positioning equipment to team-design building models via the internet, speak to clients, staff and consultants in other locations, and remotely survey and obtain directions to visit their sites. Computer models are drawn on screens with pulses of light, and these ‘virtual buildings’ allow extractions of detailed data – for example the exact measurements needed for machines to laser-cut components from sheet materials.

Data-carrying light waves also enable laptops to control the chains of electronic devices and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that are necessary to transform real building facades with fantasy imagery, screened or projected: the global urban lichtarchitektur or ‘smart light cities’ phenomenon.

Last century, architects designed tall buildings incrementally via RLs (relative levels) rising from a theodolyte-surveyed datum. Next generations will discover new ways to exploit Earth observations (EO) data – sourced from scanners aboard satellites and drones, and from sensors embedded ubiquitously in structures and devices (the ‘internet of things’). These EO systems could help architects to better understand the conditions and challenges of their sites, inform and communicate their design and planning strategies to clients and stakeholders. They also could help property owners to more effectively monitor the uses and manage the maintenance of buildings and places.