Friday, June 24, 2011

The Autopoiesis of Architecture

The aim is a comprehensive theoretical system that offers itself to architecture as its comprehensive self-description describing architecture from within architecture, in its internal constitution, and in its relationship to its societal environment. The premise here is that architecture has always already constituted itself self-referentially, via its own autonomous, disciplinary discourse.
The theory proposed here, the theory of architectural autopoiesis, focuses on architectural communications and “observes” these communications to detect its typical patterns. The theory analyses how individual communications depend upon and reproduce communication structures like the key distinctions, concepts, values, styles, methods and media of the discipline.

The book thus presents a discourse analysis of discipline. But the theory of architectural autopoiesis is not conceived as a scientific theory about architecture, written from the outside. Rather, it is a theoretical intervention from within architecture, itself trying to intervene in the ongoing communicative trajectory of architecture by reflecting architecture’s evolving patterns of communication in relation to its societal task domain. The text - if it suceeds – could function as architecture’s self-description because it describes, critically evaluates, and enhances the discursive totality of architecture in from within the midst of the contemporary architectural discourse.

Why is it called “The Autopoiesis of Architecture”?
The introduction of the concept of autopoiesis reflects the premise that the discipline of architecture can be theorized as a distinct system of communications. Autopoiesis means self-production. The concept was first introduced within biology to describe the essential characteristic of life as a circular organization that reproduces all its most specific necessary components out of its own life-process. This idea of living systems as self-making autonomous unities was transposed into the theory of social systems understood as systems of communications that build up and reproduce all their necessary, specific communication structures within their own self-referentially closed process. It is this total network of architectural communications, a gigantic, self-referentially closed parallel process, that is referred to in the title of the book: the autopoiesis of architecture is this overall, evolving system of communications.

The central thesis of “The Autopoiesis of Architecture” is thus that the phenomenon of architecture be most adequately grasped if it is analyzed as autonomous network (autopoietic system) of communications. The communications of architecture comprise drawings, texts and built works. The built works of architecture constitute a special set of reference points within the overall network of architectural communications, and serve society as communicative frames for social interaction.
This new approach offers an arsenal of general comparative concepts that allow architecture - understood as distinct communicative subsystem of society - to be analysed in elaborate detail while at the same time offering comparisons with other communicative subsystems of society like art, science and political discourse. On the basis of such comparisons the book insists on the necessity of disciplinary autonomy and argues for a sharp demarcation from both art and science. Design intelligence is an intelligence sui generis. Its logic, reach and limitations are the topic of this book.

The Autopoiesis of Architecture, Vol.2: A New Agenda for Architecture

Volume 2 builds upon the theoretical groundwork of Volume 1. While volume 1 theorizes architecture’s societal function in general, volume 2 addresses the specific, contemporary challenges that architecture faces and formulates the tasks that are posed to contemporary architecture. The task that architecture faces might be summarized as the task to organize and articulate the complexity of post-fordist network society. The theory of architecture’s task is followed by a theory of the architectural design process. The question is being addressed how contemporary architecture can upgrade its design methodology in the face of its increasingly demanding task environment characterized by both complexity and novelty. Architecture’s specific role within contemporary society is explicated and its relationship to politics is clarified. Finally, the emerging new style of Parametricism is introduced and theoretically grounded.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A good example of Generative Design

Good examples of generative design are hard to come by – because there aren’t many, especially, in architecture. What is often claimed as generative design usually turns out to be designer-driven design. This is perhaps, due to the late discovery of parametric history based design by architects and perhaps the failure of design academics to define Generative Design.

An interesting example of generative design is presented by Nate Holland at the ACADIA conference as part of his research. Nate is indeed practicing generative design as his work process exploits the computers generate and search capability in exploring of design possibilities at the two vertical extremes of the building: Firstly, at ground floor to locate the best shop location and then at the top levels to orient the towers according to the best views.

Project Teaser from Nate Holland on Vimeo.

I like the equation “Profit = Revenue – Cost ” because these terms are measurable. These are terms that architects shy away from often preferring to discuss their work in illusionary terms that defy measurement. However, Economic and environmental imperatives are now making architecture much more numerically accountable. I am not proposing architecture to a numerical activity like engineering. But I think, doing so will do a lot of good for generative design; because, if all of us carry our own yardstick we will be spinning our own yarns.

The means of measuring the efficacy of design is essential for the evolution of design methods. Despite decades of academic research , the evolution of design methods have been relatively slow and is now mostly driven by the evolution of tools (CAD). Generative design will benefit greatly from the discussion on design methods moving from marketing brochures to open discussions, and that is now beginning to happen. What is the best way to layout a store in the base of a building? What is the best way to orient towers with regards to views – these are some of the important issues that Nate has addressed.

The ability to measure provides us a means to verify the efficacy of methods. Dodging it will push architecture backwards and into the hands of those who can talk about it in languages that we do not understand. The reality is that any complex design problem is a multi criteria design problem. For sure, some of these criteria will defy measurement and they should. But many need not. Cost, rentability and thermal performance are some of them. Generative design is likely to prove its efficacy in these areas. Nate’s attempt to build in evaluatory criteria into design exploration are certainly in the right direction.

Nature of Order

Architects have been long obsessed with the aesthetic rationality of order, which formed the central tenets of architectural philosophy. A tenet that is now being shaken at its very foundation, bringing down with it the validity of centuries worth of interpretation of the nature of order that once formed the core of Western science and civilisation.

An Iraq born Professor Prof. Jim Al Kahaili traces the story of its dismantling.

What struck me most was this profound statement :

Design does not need active interfering designers. It is an active part of the universe

We need to think deeply about this. It prods us to think through a monumental question : What it is to design ? It is the very same question that obsessed ancient architects as they developed a rationality that suited them and their monarchic sponsors. They built their design philosophy on the platform of geometric logic that was then prevalent.

The new understanding of the nature of order has profound implications in every field of human endeavour. In architecture, I hope the implications are clear. It disconnects rationality from the aesthetic fundamentals that we have grown up with – assumed to be universal and on which the modern architecture was built. We now discover its logical foundations to be flawed.

This leads architecture into a catastrophic intellectual vacuum.

Is the orderless form langauge that we see in architecture today an expression of this ? Or is it a juvenile reaction to it ?


Reacting Skin 01

Reacting Skin 01 from PROBOTICS on Vimeo.

Tree Fractal by Anthony Mattox

Tree Fractal from anthony mattox on Vimeo.

Simple recursive functions can created complex geometric fractals. A functions draws a graphic and then by calling itself any number of times creates branches in the image. Each of the branches follows the same algorithm and creates the fractal. The transformations which occur between iterations, the graphic drawn, and any other steps or even randomized algorithms within the process determine the resulting fractals structure.

This animation was programmed with Processing.

More of my work is available at

Thursday, June 9, 2011

MSc2 protoCology

Modular spatial robotics and ubiquitous CNC-fabrication are two emergent technologies which affect design, construction and constitution of the built environment. The protoCology system combines both techniques in order to establish an ongoing casual dialogue between users and built environment. This dialogue employs the modalities of interaction, reconfiguration and fabrication of unique building components, ideally at equal speeds. ProtoCology consists of a) a real-time virtual model for fabrication and interaction control, b) a streaming fabrication pipeline, c) a database for lifecycle tracking of individual components, d) and intelligent building components. The prototyped ecology of components is developed to serve rapid design sessions in Hyperbody’s protoSpace laboratory. All components connect magnetically, via the magnets they transmit power and information. Each component is unique and in the initial implementation can be produced in an hour, at a material cost of <€50 including electronics. After improvements, fabrication time and cost are expected to drop fourfold.

Project Team:
Head Tutor - Christian Friedrich
Coordinator - Chris Kievid
MSc2 Students - Rene-Paul van Leeuwen, Michel Stienstra, Sander Apperlo,Gerben Knol
BSc6 Students - Igor Leffertstra, Marjolein Overtoom, Jasper Schaap, Jaimy Siebel, Wilson Wong, Frank Brunschot, Bao An Nguyen Phuoc