Materials & Applications is a gallery space located in Silverlake on the Eastside of Los Angeles. As they define themselves, they are a “research and exhibition center dedicated to pushing new and underused ideas in art, architecture and landscape into view.” They use their outside space to host elaborate installations twice a year by architects, landscape architects, designers, artists and environmentalists. These installations are usually pretty spectacular, as the current exhibit of the interactive bubbles demonstrates. The huge bubbles seem to be alive and breathing, as they can actually be inflated and deflated by the touch of your hand. Mysterious and awe-inspiring, and a good example of how organic modern sensor technology can seem.

As M&A also hosts an architecture and design related lecture series, the bubbles had to be tied away for a few hours, in order to create enough free space for the audience of tonight’s exciting lecture. Robert Miles Kemp, architect and visionary per se, held his lecture on the concept of reprogammable space and the idea of building updatable spatial systems.

In the course of more than one hour, Kemp incorporated such diverse elements as Hal 9000, the famous computer gone awry of Kubrick’s “2001 – A Space Odyssey”, Automated Cars, Transformable Architecture, Japanese Robot Snakes, …and many others.

When we think of our living space, we find it to be one of the main factors determining the quality of our life. The architecutural space we live in constitutes the foundation of our life and shapes our daily activities. We grow accustomed to the space and arrange ourselves in the given structure.

But what if the architecture would respond to our needs and adjust to us? The concept of interactive architecture is still considered a new and revolutionary field which is just at the beginning of exploring all the possibilities of a reprogrammable space.

In his lecture, Kemp gives a brief historic overview of past kinetic architectural precedents, focusses on current trends in automation and new ways of building transformable robots, as well as building and designing real time updatable systems.

In contrast to Hal 9000 as an example of a computer which has turned against the humans in Kubrick’s reality and gained control of the spaceship, the computable architectural space remains at the service of the human inhabitant, allowing him to, shift all the modular parts of the building according to his needs, e.g. turn the living and dining room into a large space to host a party. Another example is an interactive sink which adjusts its height according to the person approaching it.

Kemp, a graduate of the Southern California Institute of Architecture has studied and immersed himself in the various interactive and computable technologies and dedicated his final thesis to experimenting with hexagonal elements whose movements can be programmed to form different shapes and spatial structures. It is the hexagonal shape which fits the needs for a variable modular element particularly well, as it allows for a large variety of combinations.

Incorporating all available technologies, the possibilities for revolutionizing the modern way of living and experiencing architecture seem infinite, but one last question remains. What if the reprogammable space, reprograms itself to become another Hal 9000 and decides to close in on you? A somewhat uncomfortable thought, but visionary thinking forbids irrelevant doubts of this sort, …right?

For more info on Robert Miles Kemp’s work please visit: and

– a lecture on interactive architecture –

Date: Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Place: Material & Applications Gallery
Address: 1619 Silverlake Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026

Text and Photos: Christopher Lenz

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