Catching up with the Past: A Small Contribution to a Long History of Interactive Environments


  • Michael Fox



This paper documents the evolution of my thinking in the area of interactive architecture over the past 15 years with students and my office. The work is framed within an overview of a long history of work in the area by others. My personal development has taken a number of clear steps in a relatively logical progression.

In summary, the work began with kinetics as a means to facilitate adaptation. Work in this area led to integrating computation as a means of controlling the kinetics. The combination of these two areas led to the use of discrete mechanical assemblies as a systems approach to interaction design, which led to the thinking of control as bottom-up and emergent. Consequently I became fascinated with modular autonomous robotics and the notion that actual architectural space could be made of such systems. This in turn led to the exploration of biomimetics in terms of the processes, which eventually led to the idea that the parts in a system should get smaller to the point that they make up the matter itself.

The paper concludes with an explanation of how technical advancements in manufacturing, fabrication and computational control will continue to expand the parameters of what is possible in robotics, and consequently influence the scale by which we understand and construct our environments. The future of interactive environments will most certainly involve re-examining the scale by which things operate to the extent that much of the operations happen within the materials themselves. This scaling down is beginning to force a reinterpretation of the mechanical paradigm of adaptation.

Author Biography

Michael Fox

Michael Fox is the founder and a principal of Fox Lin Inc. in Los Angeles, California. In 1998, Fox founded the Kinetic Design Group at MIT as a sponsored research group to investigate interactive architecture. Fox directed the group for three years. His practice, teaching and research are centred on interactive architecture. He is an associate professor at Cal Poly Pomona and has taught previously at MIT, The Hong Polytechnic University, Art Center College of Design and SCI-Arc in Los Angeles. Michael Fox is the author of the book Interactive Architecture published by Princeton Architectural Press.