Who knew a bagel shop delivered to studio? It's 9:30 on a Friday morning, and nine sleepy fourth- and fifth-year students at the Pratt Institute School of Architecture are preparing to present their research when a cell phone chirps and one person makes a break for the door. "Is she coming back?" asks visiting professor Philip Beesley, down for a biweekly visit from the University of Waterloo in Ontario. The student returns, bagel in hand, and the conversation resumes as each student presents information on architectural theory, ranging from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's noosphere to Eric Owen Moss' efforts to, as Beesley puts it, "build [James Joyce's] Finnegans Wake in Culver City."
This is a typical seminar day in "Responsive Robotic Architecture," the studio Beesley teaches with Richard Sarrach. The goals are to examine the idea of performative architecture through concepts such as robotics and mechtronics (the commingling of mechanical and electrical engineering). The first day of studio, students were thrown in headfirst. Asked to put together a mechanized mesh system designed by Beesley's Toronto office, they were required to assemble the plastic mesh, solder the circuit board, and wire the system so that the mesh expands or contracts based on signals from integrated motion sensors. The mesh now hangs limp in the second-floor studio space, having been cannibalized for student projects. On the other side of the table, a tentacle is suspended from the ceiling; it curls up when it senses motion—"We wanted to make it a little bit like an animal," designers Xuedi Chen and Shawn Sims explain—and it could be applied as a divider in a flexible space. The most promising designs at the end of the semester will tour the country in an exhibition.