Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ocean Network - a model for contemporary collaborative praxis?

The following is a short survey or map of a scene - the Ocean network - that was an assignment for the unit 8197 Contexts in Digital Design.

Ocean, currently OCEAN Design Research Network and oceanD, but best known by the former Ocean North, is an interdisciplinary research network of young academics and research based practices that are mostly focussed on architecture.

Collaborative projects are promoted to such an extent that the primary manifesto of Ocean becomes that the research network, beyond simply disseminating ideas, has a creative potential as a flexible forum for production that is much greater than traditional practices or academic silos. The pertinence of this suggested path for contemporary practice is evidenced by the interest in collaboration that is now beginning to filter into commercial, mainstream, architectural practice under the banner of integrated design that is made possible with  BIM.

In terms of setting an agenda, Ocean's position in the architectural avant garde recalls that of CIAM and Team 10. Ocean describe the design paradigm that they promote as post-conflict, heterogeneous, stimulating, performative, context-specific, and socially and environmentally sustainable. A research area of particular priority is the application of computation and biomimeticsbionics and biomechanics to performance oriented design of systems and materials, which builds on the legacy of Antoni Gaudi and Frei Otto.

Ocean's mode of practice is dominated by outputs that favour the experimental such as design competition, publication, exhibition, installation, pavilion and studio projects in an academic environment, characterised by iterative incremental development, testing in different contexts and schools, and a desire towards exploration and dissemination - although some members also spend significant time working in relatively traditional teaching and practice contexts.

New Czech National Library design competition 2006

Barley 2 sound installation 2008

Ocean is centred around the Architecture Association (AA) in London where it was formed as an experimental think tank by graduate students Michael Hensel, Ulrich Konigs, Tom Verebes and Bostjan Vuga in 1994. Verebes and Hensel went on to be lead teachers and researchers at the AA graduate school, with Verebes becoming a head of the the Design Research Lab (AA DRL) and Hensel being a leader in the development of the Emergent Technologies and Design programme (AA EmTech).

The 'official' Ocean membership is somewhat fluid and the broader scene is a dynamic network of current and former members, groups and collaborators. Many in the Ocean network loosely organise in geographic groups described as nodes - current/previous nodes include: London; Helsinki, Oslo, Rome, Frankfurt and Cologne which practiced together as Ocean North; Boston; and Sydney.

Hensel has been the most prominent in publicising Ocean, articulating it's research priorities and formalising the network, and his writing, often in collaboration with others, has been prolific. When Ocean was restructured in 2008, Hensel was elected founding chair of the Ocean Design Research Network, which was registered as an association in Norway.

Significant Groups, Members and Collaborators

Significant members and collaborators
  • Michael Hensel (London, Cologne, Istanbul, Oslo) - studied at the AA and previously led the AA EmTech, teaches at AHO, on editorial board of AD and the Journal for Bionic Engineering (JBE), research interests in biomimetics and performative design
  • Ulrich Konigs (Cologne) - studied at the AA, teaches at the University of Wuppertal, practice is Koenigs,
  • Tom Verebes (London) - led the the AA DRL, practice is now Ocean UK / oceanD
  • Bostjan Vuga (Ljubljana) - studied at the AA, practice is Sadar Vuga
  • Achim Menges (London, Frankfurt, Stuttgart) - leads the ICD at Stuttgart University, teaches in (and previously led) the AA EmTech and teaches at Harvard, research interests in biomimetic design and fabrication, see Evolutionary Strategies 
  • Michael Weinstock (London) - leads the AA EmTech, research interests in biomimetics and materials
  • Jeffrey Turko (London) - studied and teaches at the AA, practice is NEKTON
  • Paul Hladik (London, Prague) - studied in the AA EmTech and at CTU, works with ArupSport, founder of Nolimat group
  • Kivi Sotamaa (Helsinki) - studied at TaiK and the Royal College of Art, leads the Digital Design Laboratory at the TaiK Design Factory, teaches at UCLA, practice is Sotamaa
  • Tuuli Sotamaa (Helsinki) - studied and teaches at TaiK, practice is Sotamaa
  • Toni Kauppila (Helsinki) - studied at the Bartlett, teaches at TaiK, practice is ND (see Tatit)
  • Defne Sunguroglu Hensel (Oslo, London, Istanbul) - studied at the AAteaches at AHO, research interests in materials
  • Birger Sevaldson (Oslo) - teaches at AHO, interests in interior architecture, industrial design and systems thinking
  • Natasha Barrett (Oslo) - composer and sound installation artist, research interest in spatio-musical potentials
  • Steinar Killi (Oslo) - teaches at the AHO
  • Aleksandra Jaeschke and Andrea Di Stefano (Rome) - studied at the AA, practice is AION
  • Robert Efer (Boston) - studied at McGill, teaches at the BAC, practice is Studio Troika / Ocean US 
  • Wade Stevens (Boston) - studied at MIT and Harvard, teaches at the BAC, worked with large firms, now practice is Ocean US
  • Adrian Lahoud (Sydney) - studied at RMIT, teaches at UTS, practice is Asabiyah, research interests in  urban design and politics
  • Anthony Burke (Sydney) - head of the architecture school at UTS, practice is Offshore Studio, research interests in urban design
  • Yasha Grobman (Tel Aviv) - studied at the AA DRL, teaches at Technion, Colman College and Tel Aviv University, research interests in computation and sustainability
  • George Jeronimidis (Reading, London) - honorary member, leads research and teaching on biomimetics, heads BIONIS, teaches at the University of Reading and in the AA EmTech programme
  • Mark Burry (Melbourne) - honorary member, leads the Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory (SIAL) at RMIT, using computation to complete design of Gaudi's Sagrada Famila in Barcelona

Significant groups (nodes):
  • Ocean North was primarily Michael Hensel, Kivi and Tuuli Sotamaa, Achim Menges and Birger Sevaldson, but also variously Defne Sunguroglu Hensel, Toni Kauppila, Aleksandra Jaeschke, Andrea Di Stefano, Steinar Killi and Natasha Barrett amongst others, and practiced as Ocean North from 1998 to 2006.
  • Ocean US is lead by Robert Efer and Wade Stevens.
  • Ocean UK is lead by Tom Verebes
  • Ocean Sydney is lead by Adrian Lahoud, Anthony Burke, Charles Rice and is centred around the architecture school UTS, with collaborators mostly being other teachers and students from the school including David Burns (formerly SO-AD), Chris Bosse (Lava, formerly PTW), Joanne Jakovich, Ben Hewett (also Offshore Studio) and Samantha Spurr. The Vector Guerillas and Post-Traumatic Urbanism  blogs record some of the collaborative project work. 


Ocean Design Research Network and oceanD are separate networks led respectively by Hensel and Sevaldson, and by Verebes, Elfer and Stevens. oceanD are operating much like a traditional practice with offices in London (Ocean UK) and Boston (Ocean US) seeking commercial work. While the Ocean Design Research Network, continuing to be primarily situated in an academic context, has expanded to include a Sydney node centred at UTS (*), yet its website has not been updated for two years and Hensel appears to be maintaining the Performance Oriented Design website instead.

Ocean Design Research Network:
  • (Oslo) Michael Hensel, Defne Sunguroglu Hensel, Birger Sevaldson, Natasha Barrett
  • (London) Daniel Coll i Capdevila, Jeffrey Turko, Mattia Gambardella; (London, Prague) Paul Hladik
  • (Sydney) Adrian Lahoud, Anthony Burke (*), Charles Rice (*)
  • (Tel Aviv) Yasha Grobman
  • Honorary - (Reading, London) George Jeronimidis; (Melbourne) Mark Burry
  • (London) Tom Verebes, Felix Robbins
  • (Boston) Robert Elfer, Kevin Cespedes, Masoud Mahboobullah; (Boston, New York) Wade Stevens


Hensel is on the editorial board of Architecture Design (AD), which has been used as the primary platform for publishing Ocean's research, and the Journal for Bionic Engineering (JBE).

Seminal publications are:
A number of the individuals maintain websites and blogs (see above). Primary websites are:

    UTS Membrane Masterclass 2008
    AA EmTech Membrane Canopy 2007

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