Ornate Sustainability

Climate Crisis, Articulations of Weather, and other Shapes of Nature

in FACES Journal d'Architecture (77): L'instinct de l'ornement



Crisis is here. With the tides of climate change appear cracks in the foundations of what sustainability in the context of architecture means. Climate change isn’t any longer a speculative concept, that lightly touches the discourse, mainly manifesting in economic aspects of architecture. This ‘classic’ sustainability derived out of pragmatic decisions resulting from the observation that energy prices are rising because of scarcity of fuel. Now, we are confronted with a substantial change in nature, environment, climate, weather et cetera. The previously subtle draught of ecological decline has transformed into an environmental hurricane: an existential threat.
Facing this existential threat, some are turning to alternative models of nature. This shift of perspective - from nature as passive decorum, to nature as an active agent - means we (Architecture) must engage with our environment’s capricious and erratic sides. The built environment can claim back its significant relevance within the negotiation-processes between the natural environment and humanity’s artificial one; an opportunity to design those relationship’s interfaces.
If climate is changing on a magnitude that threatens existence, we have to re-negotiate our relationship to that force. Ornament as an expression has historically often depicted natural motifs. It conveyed meaning in the form of symbols, icons and figures. It has depicted environmental forces as metaphors and characters. Ornament told both stories and histories of nature and our relationship to it. The depiction of the fruits of harvest are as much part of it, as are dynamic fabrics which are indicating motion but are frozen in time. The recently often-stated return of ornament is a tricky matter since digitally generated patterns and tool marks must not be misunderstood as ornament per se. It is therefore more a return of adornment than a return of ornament. Ornament requires meaning, and it adds an additional layer of narrative to any architectural expression. It has its own order and its own canon. This delicate vocabulary has changed minimally throughout the centuries and the topics remained unchanged. Modernism put an end to this, and the idea of material itself as an ornamental performance established an alternative framework to the historic canon. This framework breaks with figures and symbols but introduces natural patterns themselves as a design agent.
Since the early 1990s the ornament-debate continuously gained traction again. New digital design and fabrication tools, combined with an increased interest in highly ornamental historic epochs, led to the emergence of new forms of surface decoration. This included tool marks from cnc-processes, literal depictions of complex organic shapes, intelligent materials, kinetic- sensorial actuation, as well as purely digital media elements. Nonetheless, this plethora of new performativities - although often driven by sophisticated environmental simulations and advanced computation - rarely dealt with the environmental interface between architecture and humans on a communicative level. There are few examples that use ornamental features to convey environmental meaning to the user. Most of the built examples use such surface decorations as intricate methods to structure the otherwise monolithic - both platonic and curvilinear shapes - building volumes and therefore emulate complexity. What if those buildings could speak to us?
They could tell us about both indoor and outdoor climate. They could help us to navigate through increasingly complex and capricious urban microclimates. This new architectural wilderness would embrace the one aspect of nature that it was once supposed to calm: unpredictability. Rather than fighting climate, architecture could tame it; architecture could become our best friend and erratic (environmental) articulation a cross-species translation device. The resulting allostatic ornament acts as a meaningful environmental agent, simultaneously telling histories and generating stories about climate. Consequently, it helps inhabitants to navigate through increasingly heterogeneous and capricious architectural environments.

Puffy Spaces

Inhabitable Cavities,Climatic Aesthetics and Cutaneous Tectonics

in Urban Corporis (2): The City and the Skin




What are the aesthetic, programmatic and performative consequences of a climatically capricious built-environment? An Architecture in which the material fabric itself becomes a place of refuge as a sort of built allostatic apparatus. An architecture where we inhabit its puffy skin.Consequently, surfaces become skins and articulations become complexions: Cutaneous Tectonics. Those performative envelopes generate, modulate and communicate climate and are environmentally performative. Erratic ornament helps users to navigate through space by visualising intensive parameters of what we call thermal comfort: temperature, humidity and turbulence. In this process, Matryoshka-like skins alter flows of air between inside and outside. The program is nestled within and in-between the inflated cavity spaces.In nature shape is cheap but material is expensive. If we want to be closer to nature we have to rethink. We have to create Puffy Spaces.

Thermochromic Articulations

CFD-Driven Surface Topologies

for ACADIA 2019 Conference in Austin, TX.




The ongoing research presented in this paper lies on the threshold between computational design and digital fabrication with a strong focus on emergent techniques for environmental design. The main hypothesis is, that with an increasing granularity of thermal comfort - observing a trend towards more heterogeneous indoor microclimates – new design challenges arise.

Architectural fabrics will be required to communicate indoor climate conditions to the inhabitants, to maintain high levels of thermal comfort locally but specifically. This research investigates a novel generative design methodology, which links computational fluid dynamics simulations, robotic fabrication and material-inert performances. The resulting environmentally active panels respond to climatic conditions and by this communicate parameters of thermal comfort, such as temperature, airflow, and humidity, to the inhabitants.

This paper presents a digital design workflow, a prototype for a thermochromic panel, and speculates on potential development. Communicating invisible parameters of thermal comfort to users is a crucial requirement when designing large continuous indoor volumes, when blurring the dichotomous duality of inside and outside and when designing highly porous architecture.

Comfort Expressions

The dynamic and the static in post-tectonic surface articulation

in Building Parts



First paragraph

Robert Natus’ residential and commercial building on Pärnu Road (1936), a triangular corner house on one of the city’s arteries, uses dark brown clinker to articulate the façade in an expressionist manner. The construction method of the building’s facade allowed the architect to exaggerate the formal features of the whole by slightly modulating the orientation of the parts. The resulting geometric ornamentation articulates the building’s skin and amplifies its subdivision and rhythm – giving the otherwise monolithic volume a quasi-organic intricacy. The resulting architecture is expressive on the outside but not expressing what happens inside. Consequently, the articulation remains static and non-programmatic, while the inhabitation of the volume is dynamic and fluctuating. How would it be, if the envelope would express what goes on inside?

Cutaneous Tectonics

MArch Architecture Thesis at The Bartlett School of Architecture. Supervisor: Hareth Pochee



Cutaneous Tectonics investigates the relationship of inside and outside and how the construction of skins can manipulate and blur this duality.

This MArch thesis discusses the architectural definition of skins as a continuous exchange interface. By blurring the boundary condition of the envelope a third – intermediate - space can be created in the in-between. Furthermore the role of transparency and human perception of openness are discussed, as they are an integral part of the visual and sensorial appreciation of indoor climate. The envelope’s spatial dimensions are extended from a thin threshold to a thick inhabitable zone.

The city of Istanbul is introduced as a given outdoor climate condition and data centre, archive, library and greenhouse are set indoor climate zones. Non-mechanical environmental control techniques, such as natural ventilation, thermal mass and material embedded moisture buffering, are utilised to modulate climate conditions according to thermal comfort demands.

A voluminous boundary, shielding a central core region by shell layers, can construct seasonal chambers with migrating functions and occupation patterns. Computer aided fluid dynamics tests were conducted by the author to identify principles of air flows in cavity spaces. The calculated results, analysing those tested matryoshka envelopes, proof that it is possible to design a system of moulting fabrics and still sustaining required standardised air change rates.

This method, inflating the sticky envelope and creating puffy cutaneous cavity layers, is illustrated by several conceptual designs. Environmental field conditions are strategically defined as climates, rather than functions, are allocated. One particular intuitive design is further optimized and the previously generated knowledge is applied. Both the syntax of allocating climates – hence resulting temporary functions - and the idea of epidermal tectonics show great potential for architectural application and seem feasible within a temperate climate zone.

Intricacy In Motion

MArch Architecure History and Theory Essay at The Bartlett School of Architecture. Supervisor: Oliver Domeisen



Being determined to be a method to elevate architectural expression beyond the pragmatic and obvious, ornament can depict images impossible to be showcased just by the structural and tectonic vocabulary itself. Therefore ornament can contribute notions of motion to an architectural design, on scales perceptible by the human eye. Ensuing the relations between ornament, intricacy and motion are discussed.

An analysis of the theoretical argument about order and complexity, comparing writings by Kent Bloomer, Ernst Gombrich, Robert Billings, Louis Sullivan and Thomas Beeby, is accompanied by graphical analyses of historic and contemporary examples. After introducing the importance of complexity and order, concerning the depiction of motion, and a short excerpt on kaleidoscopic geometry three types of dynamic movement are chosen: expansion and contraction, the organic movement along a surface and the vibrating noise of super intricate surfaces. Graphic analyses of projects by Herzog & de Meuron in Spain, Beeby’s comparison of the work of Sullivan and Wright, Michael Hansmeyer’s Columns, the sacristy of the Cartuja de Granada and Billings’ templates for Gothic tracery are accompanied by a continuous argument between different theories concerning complexity, order, intricacy and motion.

After questioning all precedencies regarding senses of motion within their ornament it becomes clear that rhythm, variety, symmetry, hierarchy and especially temporary endemic defiance of order play an important role in the ornamental depiction of motion, same accounts for intricacy.

When Technology Goes Mad

BSc Architecture Thesis. Supervisor: Peter Mörtenböck



Since more than two million years the human genome has undergone a process of evolution. The rise of computer science in the early 1950s and subsequent development in the scientific field of artificial intelligence alongside with achievements in biotechnology and neuroscience has inspired philosophers and science fiction authors likewise. According to these technological devlopments, new philosophies like posthumanism and transhumanism emerged. They argue about future visions and ethics regarding synthetic life, the implementation of technology into the human body and their consequential effect on human personality and society. Inspired by new technologies architects and artists have developed experminetal projects like Guallart Architect’s Hyperhabitat, Xefirotarch’s Chlorophilia or Philip Beesley’s Hylozoic Ground. Critics of the transhuman idea like Francis Fuku-yama and Bill Joy state that creating true artificial intelligence can be highly dangerouse and can eventually even put the existence of humanity itself to an end. Refering to this scenarios filmmakers have created movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, The Terminator and The Matrix, in which high tech intelligence turns against it’s creators - the moment technology goes mad.

KRNR - research & design

Andreas Körner is an architectural designer and researcher investigating the role of layers, folds, and thickness in architectural interfaces. After academic engagements in Vienna, London, and Oxford he is currently committed to his doctoral thesis on Disclosing Climate at the Department for Experimental Architecture at Universität Innsbruck.

Andreas Körner, B.Sc (Hons) M.Arch
Innsbruck, Austria

All content (c) Andreas Körner 2020