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Sh*tty Robots?

Updated: Dec 13, 2018

Yesterday Rodolphe el-Khoury, the dean of the University of Miami School of Architecture, spoke at my alma mater, NCSU. I wasn't previously familiar with his work, but my spouse Morgan Haynes recommended that we attend (Morgan is an architect and alumnus of "The U.").

Each project presented by el-Khoury was more unexpected than the last. The smart blankey, robotic clouds (pictured right), and tumbleweed robotic ottomans were exceptionally outlandish and yet so strangely intelligent. Through his work, el-Khoury takes the seriousness of design and quirkiness of technology and turns them into an aesthetically pleasing punchline. Not easily done in the world o' design.

Morgan and I left el-Khoury's talk feeling inspired, intrigued, and perplexed. El-Khoury's vision of responsive environments and multi-sensory architecture is bold and fearless. It was as if we were given a sneak peek of the storyboards for a new futuristic film (think Blade Runner, Tron, Oblivion, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and Back to the Future mashed into one).

After exploring his firm's web portfolio, I fell deep into the rabbit hole of robotics and its impact on architecture. Upon surfacing, I discovered the work of Simone Giertz. Her approach to robotics and sharing it with others is addicting. Her incredible sense of humor and willingness to make, as Giertz would describe, "shitty robots" is relatable. As designers, we can admit there have been many a time where grand ideas didn't always culminate in brilliant final form. But the key here is to push through. Take a moment to reflect. It's one of the final phases of design thinking that we so often bypass; however, it is the most critical.

Giertz and el-Khoury are wildly different, but they are getting at the same things. They see the value of play, experimentation, and laughter, and they exploit them to their full potential. So when we make "shitty" things, remember they're just seeds. Continue to water them, and, in time, they will fruit something nourishing and splendid (or funny!).


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