omar khan

Omar Khan, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Chair of the Department of Architecture
University at Buffalo

Field of research: intersection of architecture and pervasive computing

Cybernetic Lessons for a Responsive as opposed to Smart Architecture

Recent discussions on the inclusion of SMART systems in architectural space highlight the problems of control and automation within “shared spaces”. It recognizes that architectural space is contingent and open to constant renegotiation by multiple parties, human and otherwise. Such complexity and uncertainty of interactions cannot be found in such successful automated devices like the smart phone or the car. Hence, the propensity to see these as the basis by which to design the smart house or city are fraught for failure. Rem Koolhass, in an otherwise reactionary article titled, Cities that are truly “smart” (2014), poses a valid set of questions: “Why do smart cities offer only improvement? Where is the possibility of transgression?”

It is here that cybernetics, especially in its second-order manifestation, may provide some important lessons. My talk will draw on cybernetic concepts and projects, from Heinz von Foerster, Gordon Pask, Ross Ashby, Cedric Price and others to address the question of technically mediated transgression that proposes a different agenda for architecture within information environment. It also looks at the post-human condition of multiple agency and how we must understand our built environment cybernetically.

Omar Khan is the Chair of the Department of Architecture at the University at Buffalo, where his research and scholarship spans the disciplines of architecture, installation/performance art and digital media. Khan’s projects and teaching explore the intersection of architecture and pervasive computing for designing responsive architecture and environments. At Buffalo he co-directs the Center for Architecture and Situated Technologies and is an editor of the Situated Technologies Pamphlet Series. He received his Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cornell University and a Master in Design and Computation from MIT where he was a member of the Aesthetics and Computation Group at the MIT Media Lab. He has exhibited nationally and internationally including the Incheon Digital Art Festival (Korea), Urban Screens Melbourne, ZeroOne San Jose, Storefront for Art and Architecture, the National Building Museum and the Urban Center. He is a fellow of the New York Foundation for the Arts and has received grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and the Department of Education. He is also co-principal with Laura Garófalo of Liminal Projects, an architecture and design office.