Scott Duncan (SOM): From the Bubble to the Sponge

On February 6th we had the pleasure of hearing from Scott Duncan of SOM in Chicago.  I’ll be the first to admit that his lecture “From the Bubble to the Sponge” … went almost entirely over my head.  Phrases like “vertical sponge”, “horizontal sponge”, “very vertical sponge”, and “sometimes a sponge, sometimes a bubble” though creative are less than direct in their descriptive intent.  Each type was accompanied by a curated set of examples that justified or embodied the principles of its meaning.  Completely lost for the first 20 minutes and wondering if I had missed some key definition or term at the beginning I took a time out to try and figure out what exactly was going on.  A quick dive into the college’s website found a brief description of the talk that outlined it as a way to “explore fundamental shifts in the relationship between buildings and the ecosystems of which they are part, drawing on examples of SOM’s work.”  And suddenly everything made sense… more or less.

The ‘bubble’ in this case was a structure or form of architecture that was non-responsive or not engaged with the environment around it.  This seems to represent much of the architectural realm to date where responsiveness, up to the late 90’s at least, was interpreted as a building having even stronger AC in hotter climates.  The ‘sponge’ is in a way the solution or the counter to the bubble in that it is designed to respond to and interact with its environment in dynamic ways.  New construction on the campus of Kuwait University and the KAFD Conference Center were presented as examples of buildings beginning to bridge the gap between bubble and sponge.  I personally took a heavy interest in the KAFD Conference Center as a precedent for my studio work this semester.  My project, titled ENGAGE, focused on the deployment of responsive paneling facades on structural elements that would allow buildings to intelligently respond to the environmental conditions around them.  The initial layout of theses responsive panels was originally modeled on the panel distribution used for the KAFD Conference Center.  My personal interest in such systems and the idea of bubble vs sponge has since branched down a series of paths focusing on the engagement of structure and landscape, the deployment of responsive systems for sensing and surveillance, and the idea of heavily integrated architectural systems blending into landscape. 


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