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ongoing::summer term 08::seminar

15.04.08 Portrait: Krets / Servo


members: Marcelyn Gow, Ulrika Karlsson, Chris Perry


Established in 1999, servo is an international collaborative of four principal partners with hubs in Los Angeles, New York, Stockholm, and Zurich.

servo is an architectural research and design studio that experiments with technology, production, and material at full-scale. The practice has constructed predominantly experimental prototypes and projects commissioned by museums for exhibitions of international acclaim, several of which have been collected by a variety of arts institutions.

More recently servo has been furthering the development of these experimental prototypes in the context of more conventional architectural projects. Many of these projects have been published widely and are among those shaping the forefront of design thinking in architecture.


Whether in the form of a museum installation or an architectural project, servo’s work focuses on the development of spatial infrastructure for the production of atmosphere. These infrastructures respond to and integrate numerous technologies such as lighting, sound, and interactivity.

More importantly, it is through this technological integration that particular affect within a given environment are produced and by extension become mutable over time, giving the space in which they’re situated dynamical properties. This spatial dynamics is interactive and thus adjusts to the environment’s users, allowing both the architecture and its occupant to influence one another.


Working as a collaborative, servo constantly seeks to reconfigure its existing internal relationships while forming new external ones with a variety of academic and professional entities, to acquire specific areas of expertise and exchange within the office or with other institutional partners. Some of these partnerships include: The MIT Media Lab, The Interactive Institute’s Smart Studio, Krets, bio(t)hing, Small Design Firm, Trollback and Company, LOLA, and Stephen Kinder Design Partnership. This is a fundamental aspect of servo’s practice where on a project-to-project basis both internal and external dynamics are reconfigured in order to invent new modes of production and the spatial atmospheres they produce.

Krets partners

members: Marcelyn Gow, Ulrika Karlsson, Pablo Miranda, Daniel Norell, Jonas Runberger

Krets was established in 2003 and is affiliated with AKAD, the Academy for practice-based research in architecture and design, Sweden. Krets partners are practicing architects as well as researchers affiliated with the Schools of Architecture at the Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm), University of California, Los Angeles and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Zurich).

Krets conducts research into architectural processes with implications into social, cultural and technological aspects. The work is pursued in response to emerging electronic cultures which are bringing about new conditions in public and private environments, as well as the parallel development of digitally enhanced production strategies. The group operates through project-based work, ranging from design projects to public seminars and workshops.

The research is investigating the impact of new technologies on design processes, collaborative models and architectural design solutions. Each project consists of a collection of prototypes situated between the product and the experiment. Alternate design and production strategies informed by digital technologies of mass customization are deployed in all stages of development.



SPLINEGRAFT by Krets, 2007


The SplineGraft project sets up a reactive environment in which sound dampening panels are continuously reshaped by a network of actuating devices, triggered by user movement. The panels are grafted into an existing environment, supported by structural racks allowing a range of different configurations.

The SplineGraft can be set in different overall shapes independent of its behavior. The different parts are grafted onto each other; the profiled polyurethane panels are articulated by the configuration of the structural racks. The texture of this primary form is reshaped in real time by the control system integrated in the structural racks; a continuous form finding process with emergent patterning effects. In return, the spline ridges of the panels disperse


SplineGraft Structure

The supporting structural racks are assembled from cnc-milled clear acrylic units, each integrating the actuating mechanisms, milled tracks for cabling and etched nickel brass conduits for inter-unit connectivity. The angle between each structural component can be set in five different positions, allowing the rack to be set at a convex or concave configuration, while maintaining conductive links between each part. Each rack of five units is controlled by a micro controller, steering the integrated actuators in the form of dual shape memory alloy wires. The central intelligence of each rack communicates with neighboring racks through radio.

SplineGraft Behaviour

The behaviour of the SplineGraft is controlled by a genetic algorithm; a computer program that simulates and compresses the geologically slow processes of natural selection to nanoseconds of computational time, in order to evolve solutions to specific problems. The Spline Graft algorithm is in this way trying to emit patterns of movement which stimulate occupation of the space it has been grafted in to. The matching of sensor readings and motor reactions in an apparently intentional way by the Spline Graft, transforms architecture into a cybernetic agent involved in the making and production of space.

Splinegraft Materials

CNC-milled acrylic structural components with integrated wiring, machined polyurethane foam, etched nickel brass conductors, IR Movement Sensor, custom made PCB Cards, AVR Atmega8 Microcontrollers, Radio Modules, diverse electronic components, Flexinol® shape memory alloy actuators with protective Teflon tubes.


SplineGraft will first be displayed in the travelling exhibition Open House: Intelligent Living by Design organized by the Vitra Design Stiftung in collaboration with ArtCenter Pasadena.

The first venue will be as part of the ENTRY 2006 at the Zeche Zollverein in Essen, Germany, opening on August 26.  During the spring of 2007 the exhibition will be presented at ArtCenter Pasadena, Los Angeles. SplineGraft was developed by Pablo Miranda and Jonas Runberger within the Krets research group. http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&VideoID=6877507


PARCEL by Krets, 2004 


With PARCEL Krets suggests new ways of establishing relations between the material, audiovisual and digital techniques that are increasingly forming the environments around us. The project considers off-the-shelf technologies normally used in the packaging industry and consumer electronics as integral parts of an architectural design.

Punched plastic sheets equipped with computational intelligence through microprocessors, printed circuits, and a variation of sensors, lighting and speakers, are folded into volumes. When combined they form a wall-paneling system integrating information technology and infrastructure as well as illumination and sound. The folded sheets create depth from surface and respond to the color scheme of the Stockholm Concert Hall. The rendering of the color shifts as a result of the inherent curvature in the pieces and the integrated light.

The PARCEL project emanated from an interest in a number of specific phenomena and readily available technologies:

1. The material cultures and fabrication principles of disposable articles and printed matter. The short-lived "throwaway" is easily produced and distributed and thus interesting in relation to a growing need for rethinking the use of plastics in architecture. Initial studies examined tectonics, modularity, detailing, recombination and assembly, looking at ways to deploy these at an architectural scale.


2. Cheaply produced electronics are increasingly infusing our environment with cellular intelligence. Computing power is becoming ubiquitous and readily available to such an extent that it takes on disposable qualities. Previously large and exclusive electronic devices are rapidly collapsing into cheap devices of the size of a pinhead. Electronic circuits can nowadays be printed onto almost any surface, making it possible to integrate microprocessors in products and environments ranging from household appliances to surveillance systems and clothing tags. They make up an invisible but nonetheless present and active part of our public and domestic spaces.

3. Equally important, but less apparent, is the software driving these integrated devices. Their code plays a potentially important role in scripting the interaction between individual and environment, as well as social interaction between individuals. Coding is becoming an act of design, where the scripting of behaviors is increasingly linked to the ambience of our environments.

Design Development
Design and material development within these three fields was done in parallel, covering four areas of investigations.
- Material and production looked at key aspects of the disposable product including production and assembly, as well as a range of conductive materials including tape, glue and paint.
- Within design and method the folded structure, as well as modularity, patterning and detailing, was developed.
- Program and performance included algorithm development, user recombination and network communication protocols.

The presentation area includes internal testing of systems, as well as continuous documentation and presentation of the conglomeration of the different tracks.

The cellular principles of the programmed intelligence suggested a similar approach to the physical components. A system of partially folded units with specific curvatures and sets of folds was developed. The inherent curvatures provided structural stability as well as visual effect. The units retained qualities of the sheet, while achieving volumetric capacity. The name PARCEL originates from the way that the singular units are partially enclosed to be able to house electronics but not hiding them from view. Another connotation of parcel would be the act of distributing parts, to "parcel out." The assembly principles of PARCEL explored the potential for a striated and non-uniform expression, in the way that the different parts could be recombined. The structural logics provided for a vertical positioning, suggesting the idea of a wall paneling system.

The production patterns developed were used as master for the punch tool, setting cuts and fold lines, original for printed circuits and instruction for electronic components. In essence, the complete information for the production of one PARCEL unit was integrated in a single drawing. In this way the formal logics of the PARCEL prototypes were imported from printed matter and disposable articles, transferring their qualities to an interior scale.

The local digital conduits within the single PARCEL unit form a network with all other units when assembled into an installation, with physical connectors also closing the electric links. The physical and electronic architectures were both a cellular and parallel model, as opposed to traditional sequential computer processes.

The immaterial reactive characteristics of PARCEL are based on white noise, often used to control sound conditions in an environment. Surrounding sound is picked up locally through microphones to be dispersed to other units of the installation through the integrated network. During this transfer the sound signal is transformed by other inputs and emitted through loud speakers and LED lighting, establishing local environments. The interchangeable units of PARCEL, each with specific formal and operational characteristics allows dynamic recombination by users/visitors while the installation is in operation. The striated pattern of the complete installation can be reconfigured at will and the emergent behavior of the distributed intelligence in the local environments changes.

The transfer of strategies from other fields to an interior architectural scale introduces an oscillating ambiguity between graphic and spatial infrastructures. The multifunctional quality of the graphic pattern as instruction for production suggests an ornamental transition from graphic to electronic to spatial infrastructure. PARCEL blurs the relationship between model and building - in this case the wall, and prototype and product - in this case the wall paneling system, in its capacity to continuously react and interact electronically with its environment, as well as invite the visitor to recombine and transfigure the system.

Today's individual and collective spaces are saturated with information networks and control mechanisms, ranging from automatic doors, to information displays and surveillance systems. The social protocols of such densely electronic material are very much dependent on the presence they have in a space. By appropriating these systems into the architectural design process, theybecome part of the overall design agenda, and can be articulated accordingly. An extension may lead to new models for social exchange in space, which can be compared to the spread of Internet communities over the past decade.

With PARCEL, Krets addresses the component level of architectural production, and the fact that the rational building industry of today is based on components with very specific geometry. There is a tendency for closed systems to be developed by individual actors based

mainly on economic conditions and not integrating architectural quality. This limits the choices of innovative architectural design and shapes our environment in a profound way.

PARCEL materials

Punched and printed PVC sheets, conductive glue, paint and tape, PIC 12F629 Micro controllers, assorted electronic components, plastic membrane speakers, microphones, LEDs.



Interactive spatial matrix commissioned by the Steirischer Herbst for the exhibition Latent Utopias curated by Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher.


The Lattice Archipelogics project is the result of a commission from the Steirischer Herbst in Graz, Austria for the Latent Utopias exhibition curated by Zaha Hadid and Patrik Schumacher in November 2002. Addressing conditions of emergent behavior, Lattice Archipe-logics integrates digital design, computer-numerically-controlled fabrication, and interactive motion technologies to create an interactive scripting device within a gallery context.  A suspended cellular archipelago of vacuum-cast elements embedded with motion sensors, LED lighting, and speaker technologies responds to, as well as influences, a wide range of circulatory and conversational patterns throughout the installation.  Conceptualized as spatial and programmatic software, Lattice Archipe-logics captures the viewer to engage in its performance.  An archive of movement patterns is generated and recorded by the proximity sensors as the gallery space is populated. When left in its inert state the algorithmic interface will sample from this catalogue of stored movement patterns to perform them iteratively. Depending on the participants’ movements the performance is never the same with no beginning or endings, rather emergent, and unfolding. A three dimensional luminous drawing is sketched by visitors through their bodily manipulation of the digital interface. Once engaged with the work the exchange within the gallery environment is no longer passive.

Physical description

104 pressure formed, translucent, white plastic modules

algorithmically relayed LED system surround-sound system.

The spatial hardware of lattice archipelogics is a thick atmosphere of 150 vacuum cast polyethelene cells, each of which interlock with a twin cell in the formation of the larger system.  The cells are vertically staggered in a pattern of self-counterbalance and double as conduit for the distribution of various cables and wires specific to its programming system.   

The spatial software of lattice archipelogics is an intricate web of interactivity generated by computer programming which effectively allows the system to observe the circulatory patterns of its users and translate that movement by way of algorithmic filters into a variety of lighting and sound patterns which, in turn, affect the behavior of its users, generating a feedback loop.                                                    

SPOORG by servo, 2006/ 07


spoorg, a recent project by the architectural design collaborative servo, engages the species of informed materiality, grappling with the extent to which the exchange of data instantiates itself in the material and organizational qualities of a space or is more immaterial in nature. In spoorg the material capacity of communication; the nexus of interacting channels for the management, processing, storage, and retrieval of data reflects itself in the architecture. spoorg performs as an active and multi-directional material site of intensive feedback.

spore   ( (spôr, sp r)
n. A small, usually single-celled reproductive body that is highly resistant to desiccation and heat and is capable of growing into a new organism, produced especially by certain bacteria, fungi, algae, and non-flowering plants.


The spoorg or semi-porous operable organism takes its name from a primitive, usually unicellular, often environmentally resistant, dormant or reproductive body produced by plants and some micro organisms. These are capable of developing either directly or after fusion with another spore into a new individual which is, in some cases, unlike the parent. The spoorg system is a cellular network that attaches onto the interior and exterior of glass facades and windows. It functions as a shading and speaker system, filtering sun light and creating an ambient sonic environment through wireless radio communication. Each spoorg module is embedded with local intelligence, enabling it to communicate with adjacent spoorgs. spoorg reacts to local as well as environmental changes of light and responds by modulating sound textures based on a series of algorithmic rules, producing larger scale atmospheric effects. Materially it is equal parts architecture, decoration, hardware and software.


Each spoorg module is composed of a thin-walled vacuum-cast plastic shell with hollow regions for embedding electronic programming devices including microcontrollers, photo transistors (light sensors), speaker elements and RF modules for wireless radio-communication with adjacent cells. The electronic hardware is developed from Arduino open-source physical computing platform. The spoorg system revises the conventional notion of modularity as a material aggregate and proposes a composite information aggregate where modules of information take on material attributes in the architectural environment. spoorg cells can operate individually as well as in dense assemblies - aggregating through stacking and clustering, nesting, cell division or fusion with other cells to create new individuals.


The electronic infrastructure operates with a similar logic. Each unit is responsive to local sensory input and produces sound individually. Instead of one processor that performs one complex task sequentially, spoorg is composed of several simple processors operating in parallel to one another and performing simple tasks. Local interactions give rise to global information processing as the individual sound behavioral patterns fuse with input from neighboring cells. This cellular approach allows for the assembly of material, electronic and social networks having different modes and distributions of connectivity.


The spoorg system was installed in the R.M. Schindler Kings Road house for the exhibition Gen(H)ome from October 29, 2006 to February 25, 2007. spoorg’s infiltration of the house occurs in the nursery, which as the nexus of growth and cultivation is an ideal site. By being able to monitor or register atmospheric qualities in the house and exterior environments, the spoorg system inverts the convention of monitoring the nursery. spoorg communicates through the house envelope, attaching to the interior and exterior of the nursery, creating a porous configuration from the garden to the interior.


The spoorg system allows one to cultivate and decorate the domestic space by distributing and expanding shading and sound into a modular wall system. Varying states of transparency emerge as the spoorg interfaces with natural lighting. Through cultivation (inhabitants’ interaction with the spoorg system) sound patterns are generated. Shifts in the density and the pace of ambient sound become apparent through the spoorgs’ modulations of sound frequencies. Lack of cultivation will result in a decay of the spoorg system’s performance. This decay is contingent upon the programming that connects sensor activity to the modulations of sound frequencies – reduced sensor activity will result in reduced sound emission. The difference between decay and growth renders the domestic space with subtle changes of atmospheric moods. The generation of pattern, lighting effects, conditions of acoustic transparency or opacity all begin to re-shape surfaces of the domestic interior.


The intertwining of material and electronic systems responds to human presence and atmospheric change. It slowly erodes and reconfigures the material envelope of its architectural host. The embedded electronic networks in spoorg enable materiality to become informed, momentarily exposing the conflation of the biological and technological. As inhabitants become accustomed to its presence, and the performance of spoorg in turn becomes adapted to movements of the inhabitants and the local environmental conditions, spoorg becomes increasingly embedded in the architecture upon which it acts.



URBAN TOYS V.1 by servo, 2000


Servoline_1/UrbanToys by Servo is a Web-based tool for 3D design and design presentation. Via a web site the user can model and create his or her own "Urban Toy", a design or art object of one‚s own. When the user is satisfied with the result he can have the object manufactured and sent to him. Here the user, via the Internet, has at his disposal and control the entire process from consumer via design, manufacture, order, distribution to consumer.
Servoline1/Urban Toys is a new consumption model where the design process and the relation between consumer and manufacturer is transformed. The consumer becomes here a co-originator, producer and manufacturer.

URBAN TOYS V.2 by servo


Urbantoys v.2 was redevelopment of the Servoline_1/urbantoys project set in a gallery space, as part of the Iaspis Reshape sideshow of the 50th Venice biennale.

The gallery space required a spatial set up for the digital design environment; it performed as a platform for interaction, both literary in the design system, and through discussions between visitors.


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