Reviewed October 2016
Joshua Meyer, Knowledge Manager
The Interactive Architecture Lab (IALab) is a website that promotes the namesake multidisciplinary studio housed by The Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London. Its purpose is to promote the studio’s mantra of experimenting with emerging technologies to support design and research concerning living and non-living interaction in the built environment. This venture is a dynamic force that collaborates with leading design agencies and research groups to promote the use of novel concepts in interactive architecture (IA) and art such as multi-sensory interfaces, robotics and kinetic structures, responsive environments, wearable computing and prosthetics, the Internet of things, performance, and choreography. The IALab’s freely access website functions as a platform to share and promote the work of the studio, with the primary content divided between the Research Blog and Lab Projects. Furthermore, it is fully produced and authored by members of the lab consisting of architects, researchers and students of the newly created MArch in Design for Performance and Interaction.
The Research Blog is comprised of over 500 posts dating back to 2005, and is organized by a traditional yet stylish blog feed set in a list view of balanced text and graphics. The Lab Projects portion of the website has a similar theme and features over 30 projects, prototypes and workshops structured by tiled images. Most of the projects are installed or commissioned through industry collaborations with well-respected innovators such as Arup, Fosters + Partners, and Twitter. Not unsurprisingly, they are continuations of the Research Blog and focus on documenting the phases of experiment, design, and build. Each entry functions as an online interactive exhibit, with a generous assemblage of multimedia used to support the main deliverable, a design statement or research paper. They carry obscure yet provocative titles such as Cellular Reticulations, Consequential Spaces, and Orbital Thresholds. Such conditions are not inviting as a searchable repository, yet very favorable for discovery. Overall, interaction with an individual post is engaging and conducive to learning. Entries are consistent in identifying and explaining key terms, providing a contextual literature review where appropriate, and presenting the research problem in an effective manner. With the latter inclusion, many posts often contain a purposeful argument for how architects are well equipped to solve many of the world’s societal challenges through concepts such as community engagement and empathy. Further interaction with the collection as a whole is limited to a search box and could highly benefit from a tagging or metadata scheme. Otherwise, the user experience is very intuitive and simple to navigate for browsing activities.
The mission of IALab appeals to a wide audience of design professionals and enthusiasts seeking current trends in interactive architecture as it relates to research, industry collaboration, design-build and thought leadership. Its foundation in academic rigor and scholarship creates a highly resourceful portal for those conducting similar research or looking to standardize their methods of practice. Educators and students from peer institutions stand to benefit the most, as this body of work provides numerous unrivaled precedent studies and best practices that can be replicated and further built upon.
Due to its global audience and open access, the website platform is very successful in reaching its target users. Although there are several design agencies advancing interactive architecture through projects, these are often understandably proprietary in nature and tied to intellectual property restrictions. Furthermore, the small community of IA researchers tied to non-profit and academic institutions make little efforts to freely daylight their content. The one exception is IALab, which is a valuable asset boldly committed to advancing this topic through transparent and shareable scholarly work.