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Reconnecting to Nature

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Lifelong Chicagoan Craig Gronowski is an interior-design professional in HOK's Chicago studio who focuses on corporate workplace projects and product design. 

As technology continues to infuse our lives, it can rapidly oscillate from amazing to overwhelming. While technology enables vast possibilities, it also reminds us of how much we don’t know, what we hope to learn, and the urgent need to address the issues of our time. How does one make sense of this cascade of information and create something meaningful? The most inspiring ideas harness and extract from technology to create something beautiful, innovative, and socially significant.

I find inspiration through music that carves out spaces of its own. I wonder about the meaningful ways that space and sound can be integrated to provide an unexpected, immersive visual experience. Biophilia, the latest multimedia project by Icelandic musician Björk, is the most holistic example of this concept that I’ve experienced. Exploring the relationship between nature, music, and technology, this project connects music to natural phenomena such as arpeggios that are inspired by the relationship between lightning and thunder. For live performances, Björk has created a massive singing tesla coil that produces musical tones directly from the passage of electricity through the air. The concept included a hands-on educational program for children, transcending conventional teaching methods by blending music and science in an engaging new way. The multimedia app that accompanies the project has made its way into the Museum of Modern Art’s collection as well as into the academic curriculum in several European countries.

I don’t have to go far to witness innovative, inspiring ideas that solve critical issues. A few of my HOK colleagues recently developed the winning submission for the Living Building Challenge in Chicago.

Tasked with designing a sustainable classroom-building annex for the overcrowded Eli Whitney Elementary School, they developed a passive “living” exterior skin composed of bimetallic aluminum and oxidized copper panels. As exterior temperatures rise, the panels close to provide shade to the interior of the building. Once temperatures cool, the panels retreat. This reactive shading element acts both as a learning tool and a significant component of the energy-savings protocol. The façade also bridges the building to its site, providing an integrated playground, community garden, and resting points. It’s an inspirational example of how technology can be harnessed to truly begin to reunite humans with nature through innovation.

 

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