Liminal Matter: Diffuse, Adaptive Environments for a Future Dundas Square
O'Grady, William Connor
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Emerging technologies challenge conventional approaches to the design of contemporary urban public space, both with regard to location and to organisational composition. With the arrival of compact, mobile and real-time wireless connection, entirely new methods and circumstances for communication have developed. The “immaterial” soft systems of physical and digital space are investigated for their potential to become enriched by nascent social and technological conditions. The thesis applies this research as a tool for the re-envisioning of Toronto’s Dundas Square. In its design, the capacity for an embedded, public, and adaptive architectural system to expose the liminal, “invisible” relations that affect the collective environment is explored. The conventional and prevalent understanding that buildings and boundaries are visibly physical, rigid, and primary mitigators of the environment is challenged in favour of a diffuse architecture capable of both sensing existing conditions and calibrating new ones, providing a dynamic sensory framework for relationships between participants and built form. Material and immaterial thresholds are investigated at the scale of the individual and the collective, arriving in two sections of research and design. The Expanded Realms of the Individual first maps the comprehension of dilated physical and energetic boundaries of the human body as a measure of correspondence between other beings, while Synthesis uses this mapping to consider the potential for human relationships in the digital era. Accounting for the various boundaries of sensation in human experience, both built and speculative design work test the possibilities of an adaptive, responsive environment within the public realm. The traditional understanding that architecture serves and that its inhabitants are serviced is placed aside in favour of symbiotic relationships between buildings and bodies. Under these circumstances, exterior and interior delineations are secondary to moments of diffuse spatial circumstances. The typically open, “flexible” design approach to public space is critiqued for its potential to alienate individuals through designing for a designated “average”. The methods and designs contained in this thesis argue for an actively empathetic architecture: a system of instruments and scaffolds that sustain an adaptive learning environment while assisting to forge empathy-driven relationships between architecture and its inhabitants – in other words, an architecture that actively associates itself with the complex narratives and emotions each person experiences daily.