• Gunn Meyerhoff Shay

Life as a Switch

Twenty-first Century buildings have evolved to be very “intelligent” with sensors to allow access, change the mix of low CO2 air, dim the room lights, and even turn on cameras to monitor our behavior. These sensors are everywhere now, mostly unseen, and have helped make things like “keys” and rheostats kind of dated. Almost all of these switches are “addressable” meaning that they can be networked to a central computer, and then linked to various control consoles, so that they can be programmed to work together, and be controlled from far away.


Setting aside the dark Orwellian implications, this trend toward smarter buildings has allowed the use of these technologies to save lots of energy, always a good thing. An inefficient incandescent light bulb switched off still consumes less energy than its fluorescent replacement left on. A door left open in our summer heat and humidity for a few hours can cause the building HVAC system to run all night to remove moisture, so having a door sensor to keep intruders out can also save plenty of electricity. Making buildings much more efficient in terms of energy consumption is one of the main goals of the US Green Building Council’s LEED certification program because buildings consume more energy than any other source, so smarter buildings matter.


All of these technologies actually use us human beings as switches. They sense when we exit a room to turn off the lights, or detect our body heat to leave them on even if we don’t move. They measure the amount of CO2 in the artificially blended air we breathe and decide when to add “outside air.” They will soon be able to recognize our faces and decide where in buildings we can come and go. In all of these ways, they use our physical presence to turn electrical switches on or off, and control other machines to change our environment in important ways.


What if all this information were used to help us make our environment more responsive in ways that we found wonderful?


We have recently been working with Kelley McClung and some of her fellow artists to explore ways to make people understand that they are switches that can make music, or alter the lighting in their space in unexpected and beautiful ways. By combining environmental special effects, such as harmonic and natural sounds (think of a saxophone and waves crashing against a rocky coast) with programmed projections and switches that people activate by touching water, or plant materials, we hope to create magical places where people actually become the art and the artists. Instead of passively watching a fountain that changes randomly, actually becoming a part of the music or lighting by altering it when you touch the water!


This is what we call 4 Dimensional Architecture. Buildings and places created to be inhabited in ways that provide us with stability and functionality in the conventional way, but also that interact with people in ways that let them change the way that the architecture is viewed. Places of wonder. In this way a child might begin to understand that they too can be art, artist, and viewer.


The new Savannah Cultural Arts Center will use 4D architecture to attract people to make art, and understand their value as creators. A Forum, not a Temple. We hope it will be an irresistible attraction for residents and visitors to gather and share with each other. Stay in touch!

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©2018 Gunn Meyerhoff Shay Architects, PC 

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