“Five years ago people were looking at what we were doing and asking about doors and how the rain didn’t get in,” says Jonathan Podborsek of experimental architecture practice Kokkugia. “It’s only in the last few years that design criticism has begun to catch up with rapidly advancing design technologies and processes.”
The practice, a long-standing collaboration between Jonathan Podborsek, Roland Snooks and Rob Stuart-Smith, has since staked out its territory in the emerging field of algorithmic design. The free-flowing, web-like aesthetic of its work owes at least some of its heritage to the computer-generated forms of Zaha Hadid and Greg Lynn. However, whereas these architects draw, the members of Kokkugia work directly with code, developing algorithms to create their structures.
Kokkugia first started experimenting with “wetFoam” geometries – an algorithm based on the interaction between liquid and gas – for its Parachute Pavilion project (pictured below) in 2005. Its most recent project, the humorously titled iSaw (pictured above) extends this approach to an imagined redevelopment of Warsaw’s urban centre.
The wetFoam geometry – likened by Podborsek and Snooks to the gradient of a milkshake in which the bubbles enlarge and multiply towards the surface – is used to create two separate but mutually dependent spaces as the lattice of the walls thicken out to form a second inhabitable space. The whole point is to create a structure designed for dense urban living in which two diametrically opposed institutions, such as a brothel and a monastery, could coexist, each unaware of the other’s presence. “It’s a whimsical alternative to the tower and landscape model of social housing,” says Snooks.
Working out of New York and London, Kokkugia is an experimental research-based practice whose members split their time between teaching and developing new design methodologies. The name originates from Aristophanes’ play The Birds, in which the city Nephelo-Kokkugia is built in the clouds by birds. It’s a name that befits the trio’s belief that “architecture needs to be a little more comic, more whimsical”.