Living City explores the notion that building façades and access to fresh air are the frontiers of public space in urban areas—that in the future, façades will belong to and serve residents as streets and parks do today. To that end, architects David Benjamin and Soo-in Yang believe that façades should be active: gathering, transmitting, and reacting to data about the surrounding environment, and dialoguing with other buildings to create a network of information. The team designed a system of sensors that can be easily mounted on a building exterior to gather information about carbon monoxide and nitrogen content in the air.

Prototype sensors were deployed on the Empire State Building and three other buildings in Manhattan to test their data-gathering and communication capacities. The next phase of the project involved getting the buildings to actually respond to the data. The team designed a prototype of façade louvers that can open or close depending on air quality readings, in effect allowing a building to breathe in reaction to environmental conditions.

The jury was taken by the project's initial premise, that air is public space. “It's the last public commodity that's available for some kind of uploading of design capacity, a sort of engagement by the public realm,” Chris Genik said. “I thought that was insightful.” Andres Lepik agreed: “I like the idea of buildings that communicate with each other. This is a stream of data and now these structures are starting to talk.”

Genik thinks the idea should continue to be explored and developed. “The fact that it is open is what makes it a good kind of research,” he said. “Not all the questions are solved, but there's a method in place. There's a set of assumptions that are being investigated. It has that kind of generosity that research should bring with it—it's not closing down opportunity.”

PROJECT Living City

ARCHITECT The Living, New York—David Benjamin, Soo-in Yang




VIDEO ANIMATION Softlab—Mike Szivos, Jose Luis Gonzalez

With support from the Van Alen Institute New York Prize Fellowship, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, and Dynalloy, Inc.

In association with the Living Architecture Lab at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation

Soo-In Yang
Soo-In Yang
David Benjamin
David Benjamin