Minimaforms, arch, design & "digital materialism"

"We use architecture and design as a vehicle to speculate and explore communication."

By Nota Tsekoura, on 31st Jul, 2013 11:32

Minimaforms is a dynamic duo [Theodore & Stephen Spyropoulos] that explores architecture and design out of the predefined boundaries that the nature of these two fields suggests. Endless explorations on the dynamic of technology engaged with the physical presence of people are taking place in each of their installation project. But furthermore their link between the academic research in materiality and computer generative design have resulted to a number of innovative projects of high aesthetics. In this interview we explore their exceptional concepts and inspiring methodologies as well as the position that they take towards the educational system and the future of architecture and design practice.  

The interview    

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  Nota Tsekoura   What is your favorite location on the globe and how often do you visit?

 Minimaforms  New York / London … as often as we can

 NT  You seem to combine several architectural and artistic disciplines in your work, while the design factor in most of the occasions is a principal concern. What would you say is the most interesting dialogue generated between the above effective synergies?

 M  We do not believe in the discrete autonomy of disciplines, be it design, art, architecture, science, computation, etc.… Rather we believe projects make demands that by necessity engage a set of questions that form our enquiry and response. 

We use architecture and design as a vehicle to speculate and explore communication. 

Experimentation for us is vital as we develop work that is motivated through interaction and experience. We celebrate a methodology that is not pre-conditioned and habitual rather sees the work as evolving agent that is formed through experimentation, collaboration and participation. For us it is important to allow the project and context of the intervention play an active role in our response.

 NT  Do you believe that reformations of the boundaries between creative fields in professional practices lead to a significant change of the educational system and possibly generating new hybridized professions?

 M  We believe that being able to situate ones contribution within a larger framework is critical in engaging and participating in the larger contemporary discourses of the day. Design and architecture offers a particular knowledge and understanding of the world that we believe contributes in all aspects of human engagement. This has profound potential today as we are enabled through computation and technology to communicate and share our research and work in ways that allows for a deeper understanding and collective project to emerge. This within the context of education opens up a knowledge exchange that moves beyond the historical divide of those fortunate to have an education to a model of learning that is accessible in ways that fosters innovation and speculation. It is both an exciting and radical time. For those not blinded by distraction and who are committed to the project of architecture there is great opportunity for the young to make a difference and engage in a optimistic, positive and productive manner.Creating an active an open educational framework that enables students to understand their role as active participants that contribute to the progress of architecture is of great importance.





 NT  As parametric and generative methodologies of computational design are part of your work, what do you observe as the most interesting offspring generated from the direct access of the Architect to this technology and digital fabrication?

 M  We have always had interest in generative approaches towards computation. Computation and technology play active roles in our work but are not foregrounded. We see technology as a human pursuit and having access to new modes of communication between things allow for an exciting and challenging means to explore design. Technology is an enabling agency that allows architecture and design to adapt and evolve ideas. 

In particular in our work we have been fascinated with a form of what we discuss between us as digital materialism.

This conceptually looks at materiality as a life – like and dynamic process of becoming. Through computation we explore behavior that engages feedback between analog and computational frameworks allowing us to develop processes that sees the work as a process of formation. Time and materiality when explored can open up exciting trajectories for work.

 NT  Do you support architectural gestures by non-architects and why?

 M  We support people who explore ideas… experiment and make.

 Mirto Xenaki  Do you have any preferable material that you really enjoy working with?

 M  Phase change materials, light and atmosphere.

 NT  In your installation project “Memory Cloud” you managed to connect people in a digital but at the same time physical way. What would you say where the main difficulties that you faced organizing a public, participatory installation like this?

We want to construct environments that have the capacity to evolve and interact with people. This challenges us to rethink conceptually the technological mediums that we employ in our work. We believe in participatory and enabling models of design that allow users the capacity to influence and shape their environment. We want our environments to evolve life-like attributes that engage the everyday and stimulate our interactions with each other.Our aim is to conceive of the built environment as an interface that facilitates new forms of communication.

In our work this may take the form of a vehicle, pavilion or an ephemeral cloud, each designed as an enabling agency that are pursued as means to challenge finite and prescriptive models of space. In our Memory Cloud project for example it was through a fusion of a 5,000 year old visual messaging system with cell phone technology of today that a novel public interface was created that allowed us to animate the built environment through conversation. One of the important things for us is to find ways to enable people to participate. The move towards making things more shared and collective also encourages people to really engage with things. That level of engagement is very important to us. One of the key features of this kind of work is that people who are participating see their contribution to the project. 

The project takes on the identity of the viewer; it is an extension and collective instrument.



Memory Cloud  ©Minimaforms

The challenges in a work like Memory Cloud in an urban environment are many… The urban environment of a city plays host and witness to an evolving human engagement. We see design as assisting and challenging the inert built environment, enabling new relationships that give over the city to the people. It seems in contemporary times people’s engagement with the city has become pre-conditioned or limited; it is important for us to find means in which we can explore space as public and shared. The city is very much a creative and life-like partner in our everyday, and we explore ways to intervene and make this evident through our work. Memory Cloud is a direct form of this inquiry through the expressed thoughts and emotions of people. Cities are environments and they are shaped and evolve through their inhabitants. We had the benefit of working in urban contexts such as Trafalgar Square (London) and more recently in Detroit, like many cities Detroit is in a process of reinventing itself and through this engaged moment of transformation, allowing it to creatively come to terms with its immediate present and potential future.

 MX  How often do you use other people stories as inspiration for your projects? Could you give as some insides on the external story that influenced you the most and could you point the project of yours that that story is linked with?

 M  Our interest in peoples’ experiences (stories) can be best understood in our desire to make work that engages people and allow them a platform to communicate and explore. For us enabling a form of participation that allows our work to manifest itself as an instrument is exciting for us. In Memory Cloud Detroit it resonated in the most meaningful manner… creating a public forum for people to communicate with each other that animated the architecture of the DIA through the collective voices of Detroit. Memory Cloud Detroit was a collective act of writing space.

 NT  Thinking of the sociopolitical context in Europe at the moment, what you believe are the negotiations of the citizen with its urban space and his social life? In what sense they might differ from a decade before?

 M  We believe that space within the public realm serves a very important role in society. Within communication / social networks the role of communication with the everyday has radically transformed. We have witnessed the communication revolution. Urban space allows for collective voices to emerge as actions from celebration to protest. It is important to consider historically within architecture and art discourses that many of the radical of the 60/70’s left the project of the object / built environment and moved towards communication, examples such as David Greene of Archigram or Nicholas Negroponte  who founded the Architecture Machine Group at MIT  (commonly known today as the MIT Media Lab).

We find a great interest in the early second order cybernetic discourses and computational experiments of 60’s / 70’s as they examined computation, communication and the role of computers from a more conceptual and creative perspective. Many could only speculate without direct access to computers, a form of computing without computers, as John Frazer would say that was coupled by a cultural and social optimism. It is a not a new pursuit in architectural discourse though we have access and a collective understanding in ways that never been afforded before. Design should be progressive and challenge people. We should be enabling a diverse set of questions but mostly ones of how we live and the role that architecture can play. Architecture and its role in society are fundamental, it allows for a very particular way of understanding our world and can contribute to the current societal ills. It is not a solution in itself but it is without a doubt a critical component.

 NT  How much have your perspective tendencies changed, concerning the understanding of built space and life, through your practice?

 M  We are continuously evolving our own repertoire as we develop our research and approach. Our understanding is shaped by our experiences working on a diverse set of problems. We feel it is an interesting period for us currently as we have been asked to develop projects that are permanent within radically different contexts such as thematic landmarks within Athens National Park master planned by Renzo Piano , a land art proposal in the fjords of Norway, as well as an upcoming show at the FRAC Centre  as part of Archi-Lab that examines the role of science within architecture.

 NT  Do you have any people that you admire and have inspired you in your work?

 M  Our parents have been the most influential people for us. Over the years we have found the words on the subject of inspiration of the painter Chuck Close to resonate with us, he said, “inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightening to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.” 

We respect a lot of work… too many to name here but particularly the work of Robert Morris , Gordon Pask , György Kepes , Haus Rucker , Robert Rauschenberg , and Eero Saarinen .

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