Generative Design

The future of CAD

Cambrian architecture ?

with one comment

Are we in the midst of an architectural Cambrian explosion  – where weird and wonderful forms have suddenly emerged ?

” Beginning around 540 mya, there was a vast and sudden explosion of bilaterian/metazoan diversity and complexity that appeared multi-regionally throughout the oceans of the Earth within 5 million to 10 millions years. Without any evidence of intermediary forms, over 32 phyla suddenly evolved, many with the complex eyes, nervous system structures, and body plans seen in modern animals “.(Journal of cosmology )

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Many of these creatures were very complex and bizarre in appearance and immediately died out. Vast numbers would evolve and just as suddenly become extinct.

New technological possibilities, new social-economic conditions and the revolt against established  aesthetic frame works seem to have brought about an explosion in architectural form. Building forms that we see today have never been seen before.

Biologists are still arguing amongst themselves as to the causes of this sudden explosion of biological form. The Cambrian period marks a critical point in the evolution of life forms. It produced the ancestors of virtually all the creatures that swim, fly, and crawl today in a relatively short period in time. It is here, that biological architecture passed a  critical threshold.


This sudden explosion is attributed to a combination of geological and biological factors including rising oxygen levels,  predation,  expansion of the hox genes, invention of the eye and many more controversial speculations – with no clear conclusions 500 million years after this event.

The current explosion in architectural form on the other hand may be clearly attributed to advanced CAD, CNC (numerically operated machines) capable of creating complex components, new construction methods and the drive for novelty that fuels architecture. The break down of geological economic and cultural barriers may have contributed a new openness in form exploration. The instantaneous transmission of knowledge in images across the globe enabled by Internet may also be fueling this phenomena.

Five-Eyed Opabin

Interestingly the Cambrian explosion created exuberant forms – like creatures with 5 eyes instead 2 that we see in contemporary architecture.  They lived and multiplied – and were  the success stories  of their times, the stars of the Cambrian era.

But we don’t see them anymore. In the ensuing 500 millions years of intense design competition – of life against life – the two eyed ones won.

Is there a lesson in this for architecture ?


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Written by Sivam Krish

November 27, 2010 at 1:22 pm

One Response

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  1. Have you seen any examples of using interactive genetic algorithms in building design to optimize some aspect – for example Chris Jacobs vertical farm where a shape would need to be devised that is both economical to build, vertical, sound, and yet allows sufficient light on each floor to maximize growing space. He basically has stacked discs of floors but I wonder what an IGA program with various variables plugged in would generate.

    Milton Friesen

    May 13, 2011 at 5:39 am


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