Power of Performance

Philadelphia, PA,US
Research and Development
Academic_Research (UCLA_AUD)
Research Completed

Katy Barkan


Zhoufan Chen, Rachel Cornor, Joshua Blonsky

The antiquated notion of precision is one that has been replaced by intelligent and technologically driven design strategies that constantly seek to optimize a building’s performance. While both precision and performance act as measuring techniques of their contemporary contexts, the nature of their evaluations has conceded a performative age well past the realm of the precise.

The Alfred Newton Richards Medical Research Building, designed by Louis Kahn for the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia between 1957-65, is the preface to many of his more well known works such as the Salk Institute and Exeter Library and is the follow-up act of the Yale Art Gallery and the Trenton Jewish Community Center. Richards is composed of four towers, three laboratory studios surrounding a central mechanical tower. Each tower is further surrounded by cast in place, brick clad ventilation and circulation shafts that dominate the facade of the building due to their monumental stature. Three additional structures were added later following the completion of the original buildings. both. Taking Louis Kahn’s Richards Medical Research Building as a starting point for the investigation of performance, we are presented with a series of modular systems composed of highly customized and deliberate elements. This language of individual parts that Kahn developed predetermines the overall scheme and drives the building towards the precise on a part to whole scale. Richards is saturated with various joint types that measure the level of precision within the building. While the infill system contains soft connective joints, such as mortar and silicon, the notch and clamp joints of the structural system demonstrate minute tolerances in comparison to industry standards. Thus, just as the kit of parts moved from part to whole, so did the building from tolerant to precise.

While Kahn’s fight for the precise was grandiose in 1956, the past 60 years have created a milieu of technological advancement where absolute precision is a normative to design. What has replaced the notion of precision as a caliber of design is the ability of a building to perform. Performance, like precision, is a measurement of the ways in which accuracy and quality are assessed. Performance is defined as the capacity of an object when subjected to a set of criteria. Criteria in this case, are a set of standards and practices that act as a datum separating the performative from its underachieving counterparts. While precision and performance both derive from a measurement based principle, performance has ousted the former due to its ever evolving nature. Optimization has allowed performance to transform alongside its regulating criteria - a feat that precision could never achieve due to its pursuit of the absolute. In order to move an inherently precise system towards the performative, we conducted a series of speculative retrofits in 60 year intervals. Each iteration abided by its own criteria as specified by exterior and interior needs.


Environmental efficiency and renewable energy technologies have dominated the architectural field and have become the criteria to which design should comply. In order for Richards to perform, solar energy and environmental control has been integrated into a user friendly interface. A range of materials have been utilized in order to achieve a net-zero energy rating. Thermobimetal, a passively reacting metal that responds to the amount of solar exposure, replaces the brick and informs its users on how to efficiently utilize the environment. Towers that were once used for ventilation and circulation are lined with pervoskite solar cells -- harvesting solar energy in order to self-power the laboratories. Glass treated with the optimal frit pattern allows for adjustable thermal and daylighting control through the use of an app. This gives the building the capability to perform to a user’s demands through an active system.


Automation is the primary criteria for the performative building. Technological advances in the past 60 years have propelled the capacity of systems to anticipate and preemptively respond to the psychometric and physiological. A system of mechanized, glass panel louvers, extend, rotate, shade and collect energy in a sophisticated and dynamic manner, analyzing and amassing data that is stored in the server towers that flank the habitable space. The interior facade will respond to the immediate microclimate and its users. Through the use of psychometric sensing technology and proclivity based artificial intelligence, the panels will open up to brighten a person’s mood, will transform into media-based technology when someone needs a break, and can predict when to automatically brew coffee.


Technology has become so integrated into building materials that the acknowledgment of said technology is apparent only at a micro-scale. Metamorphic panels comprised of gigatons of transformative machines called nanoflanges have the ability to access an archive of materials that perform in environmental, psychological, anthrocentric, and interchangeable manners. These nanoflanges are able to detach from each other in order to shift and combine with other nanoflange panels at the mircroscale. In order to communicate on the worldwide scale, telescoping towers extend so that data from the cloud is always accessible.

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