Archive for 2007
Monday, November 12, 2007 § 1
It is amazing how fast information can travel today, and it is even more important that this can promote dialogue and exchange of opinions, in a way that would have been impossible using just the traditional “printed” means. This was the first thought that occurred to me when I was browsing archiblog today and I came across the article entitled “Of Buildings, Computers and Telescopes” published originally on the HAD blog, by Rafael, a computer science student in the University of Sussex (unfortunately no further information is available). Subject of this article is to justify how one of my projects, Algorithmic Body, is using “invalid”, “grossly-erroneous reasoning methods” and totally fails to meet its aims by “contradicting its architectural intentions”. The above comments of the author are used in order to justify the thesis of the article which more or less is that:
“it is possible for a computer scientist to acquire the knowledge necessary to produce software that automatically designs buildings” while
“it is not possible for an architect to acquire such knowledge without formally studying computer science, or becoming a computer scientist”.
I will not stay to the fact that academic dignity requires at least a full identity when attacking somebody else’s academic work, and especially when using terms as the ones I just mentioned. That is not really the point, and as I already mentioned, the nature of the internet is totally different from the nature of printed media. But I think that it does make sense to try to answer to the claims of the article, since that would bring forward some important issues that architecture is facing today. And I will start from the first part, my “grossly-erroneous” project:
The main argument that justifies the grossness, according to the HADblog posting, is that I state in the description of my project that “one of the most interesting characteristics of algorithms is that they can be totally self-referential. An internal quality that can produce a process independent and autonomous, that relies only on its own rules.” According to the HAD posting by that I:
“ascribe to algorithms a property that is fundamentally incompatible with the concept of "algorithm" (i.e. "total self-reference").” And I
“Judge this non-existing property in algorithms ("total self-reference") as "an interesting feature of algorithms".”.
Quite interesting I must admit…Now let me elaborate the way I see it: the algorithm that I was referring to, and which I used in my project, is a cellular automaton algorithm. Now, it might be because I am Greek, but to me it seems rather self-evident (which in Greek would be auto – noito) that the word “automaton” (which in English would be self-powered) is inside the expression “cellular automaton” for a reason. But since not everybody is able to understand the reason behind the use of words I will try to explain: The word automaton is made out of the word ‘auto-’ which means self and the word ‘-maton’ which means power. Therefore: self-powered. To clarify things here is what dictionary.com has to say:
1. a mechanical figure or contrivance constructed to act as if by its own motive power; robot.
2. a person or animal that acts in a monotonous, routine manner, without active intelligence.
3. something capable of acting automatically or without an external motive force.
[Origin: 1605–15; L: automatic device Gk, n. use of neut. of autómatos spontaneous, acting without human agency, equiv. to auto- auto-1 + -matos, adj. deriv. from base of memonénai to intend, ménos might, force]
Therefore a cellular automaton is an a priory self- powered system. While a cellular automaton algorithm is running, it is using only the rules found inside the algorithm itself in order to define its next generation. Therefore it is always and totally self-referential. Of course it needs an initial state (input) and it provides a final result (output), but obviously enough, the first comes before the algorithm (and can be defined in many ways, algorithmically or not) and the second comes after the algorithm (and of course can be manipulated in any way in order to be transformed into a building or anything else). The algorithm itself remains an automaton. In other words, a cellular automaton algorithm is by nature self-referential; other algorithms may not be. However, all recursive algorithms tend to be self referential. (1)
In any case, what is important in an architectural context is not the question whether the algorithm is self-referential or not, but the fact that the architectural process is self-referential. Therefore the process in my project is a process using rules that are internal to it and are not referring to any of the traditional external architectural factors, like program requirements or site conditions.
Nevertheless, there is a even more important problem in the thinking behind the discussed article, that doesn’t have to do with the correct or erroneous use of words: The problem is that the concept of algorithm as employed in architecture is evaluated in relation to the concept of algorithm as used in computer science. Concepts and ideas transferred from one field to another, not only can be altered and redefined, but they have to undergo such a process, if we want them to produce new ways of thinking. Of course that is a position, that underlies my work, and is largely based on the writings of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (look for example the way that they use concepts like rhizome, diagram, machine etc). Supporters of ‘universal truths’ and “pure reason” will of course disagree. And in that context it makes sense that the posting refers to Alan Sokal, author of the notorious book Fashionable Nonsense, where he tries to render the work of post-modern thinkers like Deleuze, Lacan, Kristeva and Baudrillard as nonsense, based on the idea of a ‘misuse’ of scientific terms and concepts. What does not make any sense at all is that on a previous article on the same blog, Manual DeLanda’s article “Gilles Deuleuze and the use of genetic algorithms in architecture” is also used in a similar fashion. But that is a whole different discussion.
The above observation is actually answering why computer scientists, unfortunately, will never be able to produce architecture. Because science, as Deleuze and Guattari point out in their last book “What is Philosophy?”, must always isolate a small fraction of reality in order to operate. On the contrary, philosophy, and I will argue, architecture, have to deal with an extremely broader field, which tries to include almost everything. If one succeeds to understand that difference (obviously Sokal and the author of the article is far from success in that aspect) one may very well become an architect without a formal education (in a similar way that Le Corbusier or Tadao Ando did). Similarly an architect can use computer science in architecture, as long as he understands the qualitative and quantitative differences between the two fields.
I will use a quote from an interview of Marcos Novak to explain myself better: “To be fair, though, there are at least two architectures, the architecture of accommodation, and the architecture of excess. Accommodation produces buildings, excess produces 'Architecture.'”(1) So, it might be possible for someone to write a software that will produce buildings; it is a whole other story to produce Architecture. Architecture goes far beyond problem solving, to suggest new ways of thinking and inhabiting space.
I will conclude with a phrase from the beginning of the HAD posting that triggered this text. And let me replace the words computer science with the word architecture:
“It is understandable that people who are not exposed to architecture miss the breadth of the discipline and relate it to something more familiar.”
(1) “A recursive definition or a recursive algorithm is characterized by self reference. Typically with recursion, a function is defined in terms of an earlier version of itself” Cragal,J.M. Descrete Mathematics for Neophytes: Number Theory, Probability, Algorithms and Other Stuff.
(2) Interview with Marcos Novak by Knut Mork, (c) 1995 on : http://www.altx.com/interviews/marcos.novak.html
Friday, November 9, 2007 § 1
Algorithmic body has been published on the November issue of San Francisco's design magazine Surface (is*68). The publication is part of the annual avant guardian project: "In our annual Guide to outstanding undergraduate and graduate design, we salute this year's crop of students-laureates, who focus on smart and economical flat-pack solutions for everything from products to architecture, and explore the user-as-catalyst approach that's turning design into a participatory process..."
Monday, November 5, 2007 § 0
Sunday, September 30, 2007 § 1
Tuesday, August 28, 2007 § 3
a. a 2d cellular automaton script is executed, with a random or pre-defined initial configuration of cells.
b. every generation of the ca is stacked on top of the previous ones creating this way a 'progression' of active cells.
c. the centers of the active ca cells are used in order to generate the voronoi diagram. The limit of that diagram is defined by the limits of the outer active cells of each generation of the ca.
d. the edges of the voronoi cells are used as the structural system.
e. a smoothed version of the voronoi cells is used in order to define enclosed space.
The above described process is employed in the design of a specific project displayed here (a transportation node + shopping mall downtown St. Louis). For the needs of this project an extra element is added to those of the structure and the enclosed space: a transparent skin wrapped around the composition. Fibercarbon for the structure and ETFE pillows for the skin are proposed as materials.
I think that, independently from the final result, the most interesting part of the project lies in the initial process described in the beginning. A 'growing algorithm' that will help us understand architecture as a growing organism that almost have a life of its own. An idea by no means new (look for example the metabolists or the 'urbican fever' - or fever in urbicand, whichever is the translation in english) but which becomes far more easy to work with through the computer.
More things are to follow on that subject... hopefully...
more information here
Friday, August 24, 2007 § 0
Space_Sound is a study on the work of composer and architect Iannis Xenakis. The study took the form of an interactive web site (which can be seen here. However there are still some problems with the page so it might not display correctly).
Iannis Xenakis used extensively computation and mathematics in order to create music. The initiative for this project was that while Iannis Xenakis is widely acclaimed and studied as an innovator in avant guard music, his work is not extensively examined in relation to architecture, and when that is done the focus is always on his architectural designs and mostly on the Philips Pavilion. However, Xenakis in his writings was always underlining that his methods in composition are not only applicable to music, but also to the visual arts and most notably to architecture.
Xenakis’ musical scores are composed in such a way that they have an underlying spatial dimension. His scores and diagrams for his compositions share very little resemblance to conventional musical sheets, while they could be undoubtedly “read” as spatial diagrams and architectural blueprints.
Xenakis was one of the first researchers to use computers in his musical/mathematical explorations. With a delay of some decades, the use of the computer in composition reached also the field of architecture and eventually led to a more constant, or more obvious, impact of mathematics to architecture. The architectural avant guard today has to deal with, up to a certain extent, with mathematical or computational processes like cellular automata, L-systems, stochastic process and boolean algebra, all methods employed earlier by Xenakis in his work.
Having the above in mind, Xenakis’ work could prove itself extremely helpful in relation to the questions that computation is posing to architecture today. More specifically, Xenakis’ work could provide insights for architectural practice in relation to the computers in two ways:
a. First in a theoretical level. Xenakis provides a very extensive philosophical and theoretical background for his work through his writings, which seems possible to be used also in relation to architecture today.
b. Secondly in a design oriented level. Iannis Xenakis started to use mathematics and computers as his tools for composition in the beginning of the 1960’s and continued this research until the end of his life. Therefore his work has to offer a great variety of methods, techniques and processes for the musical composition. Given the fact that Iannis Xenakis’ way of working with music was based on ‘spatial’ techniques and visualization of his ideas through drawing, a study of his projects could offer precious insight for architectural design. In addition to that, the introduction of those spatial qualities in Xenakis’ research that focuses on sound, arises questions on the relation between space and sound and how the one discipline can offer resources to the other.
So, space_sound consists mainly of visual representations of several methods that Xenakis employed in his work. Through scripting concepts and mathematical ideas like boolean algebra, alleatory distribution of points on a plane, brownian motion, cellular automata etc. are used in order to create small animations that are trying to explore the spatial or architectural qualities that those concepts can activate.
Some direct links to the animations:
This is a first attempt to use the voronoi diagrams for a specific design. The initial set of points is defined by the program requirements. The edges of the voronoi cells become the structure, while a first idea for enclosed space was to use again the voronoi cells (in a 'smoothed' version) as clusters of space in a configuration that resembles the relation of bones to organs. This project though was not developed further...
more info here
Friday, March 2, 2007 § 3
a. Their structural properties, both in 2d and 3d.
b. As a way to subdivide/organize space, based on proximity/closest neighbor.
c. The fact that they can describe many natural formations, like soap bubbles, sponges or bone cells.
There are two problems arising though. The first is a method to construct them. It looks that the most reliable solution until know is Qhull (http://www.qhull.org/) , in relation to rhino or generative components. Rhino script could be another option.
-Aranda, B., Lasch, C. Tooling New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.
-Bollobas, B., Riordan, O. Percolation Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
-Kim, M.S., Shimada, K., (eds.) Geometric Modeling and Processing – GMP 2006 Berlin: Springer, 2006.
-Klein, R. Concrete and Abstract Voronoi Diagrams Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 1987.
more info here
Friday, February 9, 2007 § 1
A studio project, for a new school of architecture for the KU.
The idea begun from Frei Otto's studies of lattice structures with rigid joins, and became a study of how a structural system can 'overcome' its main property (that of being structurally efficient) and became a system that is at the same time an 'ornamental' element and the element that defines spaces (and of course the structural system as well). Also an attempt to see how this complexity can be fitted inside (and used in order to define) a volume as simple as that of a box.
At any case Frei Otto’s work is still an endless field of inspiration.
Technological developments have multiple results in relation to architecture. The ability to observe at the micro level surely falls into those developments. Cells and microbiological structures are offering a whole new world that can help as develop new spatial relationships, understand space in a different way. And that goes well beyond mere formal explorations. Cells of course are displaying unique forms that could be transferred to architecture, but are also displaying ways of organization, ecological strategies and extremely efficient structural systems, all of which can inform architecture in different levels.
This project begun from a cell: xylem vessels. Through detailed 3d modeling, animation and study of its properties it finally led to a design for a garden. More specifically to a system of rain collectors that could be installed in a garden. Xylem vessels are plant cells used in order to transfer water from the ground to the higher parts of the plant. That cell structure is eventually developed/transformed into the rain collector, which is also transferring water, this time following the opposite direction: top>bottom instaid of bottom>top.here
Sunday, February 4, 2007 § 1
The competition was a call for installations (for downtown
Our project is a rather primitive attempt. A simple honeycomb structure is growing and changes colors, according to the game of life set of rules. Only that the automaton is not totally an ‘automaton’, that is people by entering the structure, can change the state of a cell and therefore affect the whole process. Well, a theme that has to be developed more in the future….
This project was not so much an attempt to design a 'specific' building but rather a study of the properties of the spiral, therefore the diagrams are much more important than the renderings, which are illustrating just an example...
Friday, February 2, 2007 § 0
A two week studio exersise. The aim was to rethink what a suburban retail store could be. The idea is rather simple: The store is 'pushed' partly underground, the parking is coming above the store, and in the back side are housing units, divided from the retail with a 'garden' lower than the level of the street. At the same time several smaller 'gardens' are dispersed inside the parking area (always at a lower lever) along with vertical translucent surfaces dividing the parking spaces.
The aim was to 'create' different ways in which you can perceive the same object as you move on the street, in the parking lot and inside the store (the object being the trees, the cars, the store itself). Infuenced in a way by Deleuze's description of the point of view as what is taking the place of the missing center...
In this project the 'point of view' is becoming literal. As a general idea though is much more interesting, since it implies that the importance is displaced from the object to relations between objects. Like in the example of the conic sections where what is of importance is not the cone or the plane but the relations established between the cone and the plane.
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