Bruce Sterling: François Roche’s brainchildren is Dusty Relief, an edifice under construction in Bangkok which is surrounded by electrically charged wire that “grows fur” by statically attracting airborne filth.

He has also conceived stealth habitats, hypothetical communities hidden from regulators and critics by vast sheets of camo netting. Architects are supposed to draw up plans, erect structures, and finish on time and under budget. Roche is exploring what happens when the usual constraints are allowed to fall away and things get wild and loose.



As a master of conceptual architecture, Roche likes to collaborate with installation artists. This tactic allows him to avoid hidebound European safety regulations when he proposes, for instance, a steel footbridge whose design, sketched using industry-standard CAD software, has been radically distorted by a computer virus. Ask Europeans to cross a buggy footbridge and they’ll balk, quail, and consult the 80,000 regulatory pages of the EU’s acquis communautaire. Tell them it’s art, and they’ll flock to it in droves, sit on it, and drink Beaujolais nouveau.



Roche’s latest project will appear in museums in Paris and Antwerp over the next three years. Titled I’ve Heard About Node 1, it’s as audacious as architecture’s peaks of weirdness in the ’60s; say, the Suitaloon, a combination garment and dwelling proposed by Michael Webb of the London hipster firm Archigram. And yet Roche’s scheme is not just fun to think about, but eerily plausible. He’s exploiting ideas that make perfect sense in computer-driven fabrication but have never been applied to architecture. Imagine a building where the needs and desires of its inhabitants are hot-wired to the shapes of walls and floors, which can be extended and updated ad hoc, ad infinitum.



That’s Node 1. It’s an idea for a building, yes, but it lacks most of the usual architectural accoutrements: blueprints, material suppliers, subcontractors. Instead, Roche imagines a programmable assembly device dubbed the “viab,” a construction robot capable of improvising as it assembles walls, ducts, cables, and pipes.



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