Can the planet withstand another 20th century? This is the question architect Vincent Guallart asks through his installation/research project, Hyperhabitat, now on view at the XI Venice Biennale. The implicit answer is ‘no’ unless we change the way we inhabit the world. Hyperhabitat proposes we structure our physical environment like a living organism or a digital network, which exchanges information between components to maximize efficiency and adaptive flexibility.
Hyperhabitat consists of an abstract replica of a single floor of an apartment building, where every room and every object, from the chairs to the clothes hangers, are constructed of clear acrylic and connected into a data network like the neurons in your brain. The purpose of the project is to catalyze thinking about how objects can relate to each other in ways that open up new functional possibilities, paths of energy consumption, and social organization. Artists can log into the network and add nodes or reprogram the relation between nodes. The movement of data is given visual form on large monitors through out the installation.
The nodes inside the replica apartment building are a scalable metaphor. A node could be a house, a city, or even a forest. On the web, nodes remain in constant communication with each other, sharing and updating information. A house that communicates with the energy grid in a more dynamic fashion can maximize its efficiency. When we see a building as a node in a network, living or digital, we can imagine alternative relationships between the nodes and the way they share water, dispose of sewage, or circulate people. Hyperhabitat creates a space to reprogram the relationship between nodes that is a metaphor for the larger world.
Beyond the project’s fascinating conceptual and technological aspects there is the visual eye candy of the installation, with its transparent rooms inhabited by non-transparent humans interacting with tangible flows of information.
Hyperhabitat is part of the International Architecture Exhibition, “Out There: Architecture and Beyond”, curated by Aaron Betsky and involves the collaboration of many people that includes The Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, The Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT, and the artist collective, Bestario.