Jeffrey Inaba, Assoc. AIA, is the founder of his eponymous, New York-based firm, which has just completed an installation dubbed Skylight in Norway. Inaba also founded a think-tank called C-Lab at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, and serves both on Columbia’s faculty and that of UCLA’s department of Architecture and Urban Design. Inaba spoke with ARCHITECT about his recently released e-book, Adaptation: Architecture, Technology, and the City, which was written in collaboration with FREE, the office of Fernando Romero, Hon. FAIA.
What made you decide to look into releasing Adaptation as a digital publication?
We did do a print version of it, but a really limited run. The idea is that it will predominantly live as a digital piece. We think that the exposure would be greater in terms of a project like this, which is self-published. In terms of the quality of the resolution of images, it actually is much better as a digital version than what could be produced at even a fairly high level of offset printing as hard copy. In the sense that the publication addresses technology, we thought it would be good to take advantage of available technology. The main point for us in looking at technology was in asking how technology could interface with architecture, and so it made sense as a digital publication.
Briefly, what can readers expect to learn from Adaptation?
What the book argues for is something counter-intuitive: Technology is great. It’s something very important, that architects need to be aware of and adapt to, but at the same time, our argument and claim for the book is that it’s actually digital technology that needs to adapt to architecture if it is to evolve. If we look at the '90s and ideas of virtual reality, and the idea that digital technology would produce a space independent of the physical world, it’s interesting to see now that the developments in digital technology are such that it has totally abandoned that approach, and for it to expand, it needs to interface with the physical world.
How has writing the book affected your outlook on other projects in your office?
We were fortunate enough to start this project at the same time as we were starting offices for Red Bull, which is a four-floor interior job in New York. The amount of space and material dedicated to HVAC systems was appalling to us, because in the North American system, everything is conducted air rather than radiant systems; the amount of volume consumed by supply and return ducts was phenomenal. The realization that, in practice, this was something we have to design for was part of the inspiration for thinking about the fact that the technology is so directly related to practice. In that sense, we see this as a thing that has important consequences that need to be fleshed out. This publication is an attempt to state the importance of technology. The plan is to follow up with a second publication on mechanical systems, for which we’re already generating material.
Can you give us an idea of what we might expect in the second publication?
We did research on Crown Hall [at the Illinois Institute of Technology]. You’d think that in thinking about the post-war period, the celebration of new technologies, and the attempt to integrate technologies together, that there’d be no better person than Mies van der Rohe to realize those things. Mechanical systems were a weird stumbling block for Mies. He constantly redoes the plans and sections in order to hide the mechanical system rather than to make it an integral part of the design. And we interviewed the mechanical engineers that renovated the building as part of the restoration of Crown Hall, and then we explored this idea that even those people who we think of as being champions of technology—in an aesthetic sense as well as an attempt to be modern—are often times the very people who have suppressed the relationship between technology and buildings.
Adaptation: Architecture, Technology, and the City is available for perusal on Inaba’s website.
An animation of one of Inaba's latest built works, Skylight, below: