KNOT OR NOT

This is a facility for interdisciplinary research on robotics, sensors, and everywhere that computers meet the physical world and become “embodied computation.” The building is both an experiment and a research instrument. Just as biologists use a microscope to study organisms, architects will use this structure to study buildings.

The project is also an “open source building,” designed to evolve over time, with components and systems that can be swapped and upgraded. It proposes an alternative to architecture that is fixed, iconic, and driven by form or aesthetic signature.

The building features sustainable systems such as zeroenergy radiant heating (via waste condensate from the neighboring building), and passive cooling with no air conditioning. Its structure is made of timber rather than steel. It uses repurposed scaffolding boards from New York City construction for its facade, giving new life to material that is otherwise discarded. It is the first building to use sand-blasted wood for its facade, and it led us to invent a CNC-sand blasting machine. And it is one of the first buildings to apply machine learning to the physical world.

Machine Learning is a version of artificial intelligence that involves computers deriving conclusions without being explicitly programmed. The use of machine learning is increasing dramatically, and it is now being applied behind the scenes for financial trading, language translation, and countless other applications. Yet design and architecture have been slow to adopt machine learning. This project uses the technology to analyze salvaged wood, automatically identify unique features such as knots in each board, and then treat the knots to increase insulation in the facade and reduce energy consumption in the building.

The resulting facade allows us to see materials in a new way, revealing natural variation rather than suppressing it with a lowest-common-denominator approach. It offers a new perspective on buildings as a temporary formation of materials, energy, and labor. Overall, the building suggests a new hybrid design approach that is high-tech and low-tech, familiar and new, functional and aesthetic, digital and biological.