Open Columns

Omar Khan

Open Columns ( is a system of nonstructural columns that reside collapsed in the ceiling of a space. They are made from composite urethane elastomers and can be deployed in a variety of patterns to reconfigure the space beneath them. These patterns create gradations of enclosure, either in plan through the full deployment of columns, in section through their partial unfurling to change ceiling heights or through a combination of the two. The system is a mutable architecture that can change the perception and inhabitation of the space within which it is deployed.

At its most trivial, the columns can be preprogrammed to deploy themselves in prescribed configurations. This can be effective for re-proportioning a large space into smaller spaces or reorganizing the circulation of people through it. A more complex program ties the columns to real time sensing such that they can respond to inhabitants’ perturbations in space. The columns, working from a simple set of rules, respond to data coming from a carbon dioxide (CO2) sensor. In a reasonably enclosed environment CO2 values can radically change with the inclusion of people. The columns are programmed to come down when CO2 levels are going up resulting in people dispersing into smaller groups. If the CO2 levels are going down the columns respond by going up, effectively inviting people into the space. If however the CO2 value stays static the columns cycle through a random set of configurations until the CO2 either goes up or down. If a particular configuration causes a change in CO2, either going or coming down, that is put into the system’s memory and reused the next time a static situation is encountered. If, however, the
next time a round the stored configuration does not yield the necessary result then it is lowered in rank and purged if on subsequent uses it does not perform. In this way the columns, over time, learn about their space based on their own actions within it. This creates a teleonomic environment, one that acts on particular goals but has no determinate goal to which it is ultimately driven.