Generative Design

The future of CAD

Archive for the ‘Emergence’ Category

Un-Smart Geometry

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The annoying thing about discussing generative design with architects is their inability to disassociate design technology from geometry.

Architecture has long been married to geometry. In the Western tradition, this geometry is of a particular typology known to mathematicians as Euclidean geometry.   There is nothing wrong with Euclidean geometry – it is just that the Western architectural tradition comes with a religious view on its virtues. A classic example is the master of the modern movement uncle Corb writing a “Poem of the Rectangle”. This particular geometric religion was soon to be passed on as the International Style.

As the world got bored with this kind of geometry, a new geometry was needed. And of course architects are in the business of providing just that. But this time round, their intellectual justification and logic was not up-to scratch; so convincing noises had to be to made – to make up for the long slip from the role they once played in knowledge making. Meanwhile the world had really globalized and star architects just needed to shine.What geometry they used to shine was no longer that important – but shining is.

In the middle of all this – I am planting tomatoes in my garden. It is the beginning of  it is summer here in South Australia, but  the occasional winds from the South Pole has started to take a toll on them. They need support.


I has to choose between an optimized architectural solution that comes int he form of straight machine cut vertical poles and ties that “proper” gardener use so that the tomato trees appear to be supported according a deeply cultured architectural structural sensibility that is pleasing to the civilized eye or  a collection of branches that gardener had left behind.

So I am trying this experiment; since I know for sure, that  tomato plants don’t suffer from architectural sensibilities. I want to see how they fair with crooked randomly placed unsightly bunch of branches,  in comparison to the architecturally rationalized one.

Will let our readers know at the end of summer.

Written by Sivam Krish

December 20, 2014 at 11:13 pm

Posted in Emergence

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What is Algorithmic Design ?

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Cells contain massive amounts of information. If we stretch the total DNA in our bodies it will be about 16 to 32 billion kilometers. Now, that is a lot of code.

We cannot pack in more information than that. If we were to include the exact location and dimensions and geometric details of the circulatory system for example, as we would do in a CAD file, it would require more than trillion kilometers of code. Hence, nature constructs such designs with code. This is beautifully explained by Prof.Robert Sapolsky’s in his Stanford lecture.

Why use Algorithms ?

Algorithmic code is good for creating very complex geometries with small amounts of data. It works very well with the way nature constructs using cellular components. The fractal (or self similar) nature that you see in trees and leaf veins and arteries is due to this. But the code here is embedded in the cell itself and cells organize themselves to create complex forms based on of relatively simple code.

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Written by Sivam Krish

March 11, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Nature of Order

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Generative Design has an unfortunate start. Its early promoters developed their thinking based on the medieval concepts on the 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 ?



Written by Sivam Krish

February 27, 2011 at 10:02 pm

What is generative design ?

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I have been asking this question my self, for quite some time.

My attempt to find out has led me through hundreds of published papers, books, blogs and endless discussion that opened even more questions.

What is generative Design?

I have come across many attempts of defining what it is. Many of them are absurd – especially those published in journals that seek to define generative design within tiny niches of  reserch interests. Outside their confines, I have found some good ones that capture the spirit of generative design – I list them here :

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Written by Sivam Krish

January 29, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Book Review : The architecture of emergence

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Rare are the books that I read twice. This is one of them. Weinstock attempts the impossible. He brings to the table extensively researched and carefully compiled material whihc is of fundamental importance to our understanding of order. He attempts, to convince us that the nature of order is fundamentally different to what we have known. He shakes the very foundation of current architectural thinking. The book is an ambitious and monumental undertaking as it proposes a unified theory of order connecting geology, biology and human development through the frame-work of emergence.

Rare are also books in architecture without glossy pictures that make up for vague and unsubstantiated theories. For those who seek logic in-built and natural  form this a recommended read.  It firmly establishes beyond reasonable doubt,  the true nature of order in nature. The world around us has been built based on this. Unfortunately, architects are totally disconnected with this current understanding order.

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Written by Sivam Krish

October 31, 2010 at 12:42 am

Generative cells

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A few moons ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the lab of Jon McCormack. In the vast campus of Monash University, I was surprised to find it located with in the department of computer sciences; I had expected it to be within the  department of architecture. I had known of Jon’s work as I had seen online – some of his beautiful generated rendition of unique Australian native flowers that grace the landscape that I now live in. But, what I found was far more interesting.

His research student Benjamin Porter demonstrated some interesting work that mimics the embryonic development of chicken limbs. A fascinating area of research that had long intrigued me. It demonstrates how cells without over all process control can form complex geometries orchestrated by a symphony of chemicals released in a coordinated sequence.Developmental biologist now understand the  diversity of life forms in terms of the exquisite variations of this orchestration.

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Written by Sivam Krish

October 9, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Pencil & Paper : the unshakable duo

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Design researchers are an active bunch. In the Linked in group of Design Research alone, there is close to a good 6000 of them.  Many of them have been attempting to unravel the mysteries of design – “design process” to be specific. Design process , because it sounds scientific and retains the hope that one day rational thinking will somehow make it possible to bring the “irrational process” to order. Such hopes continue.

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Written by Sivam Krish

July 21, 2010 at 8:38 pm

Form Finding

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Structural form finding is not new. It has been practiced for centuries by sensible builders who sought to optimize the use of materials and push possibilities to new limits. Roman arches, aqueducts and gothic cathedrals testify to this with their grace, efficiency and elegance. In ancient architecture, great structural design accompanied great design: one shaped the other. But things took a different turn when the profession of engineering emerged,  taking away from architecture critical knowledge about the shaping of form.

Joris Laarman's Design

Early Victorian engineers however, created sensible and elegant forms – out of simple equations. But soon the fine art of structural design  was obfuscated  with the language of mathematical analysis,  landing it securely in the hands of engineers.  Continuing developments  in material strength, fabrication technologies and lately computer aided analysis bought back control into to the hands of architects, who had by then  lost the knowledge of structural design, which was replaced by curricula and code accompanied by jubilation of what can be now done.  They are heavily reliant  on the capabilities of a few engineering firms that can  make any ridiculous shape stand up, at massive expense and some risk to. So, we are now in show business and the challenge then is to drive this show with structural sense.

Feri Otto manged to succeed in this. So did Buckminster Fuller. Calatrava’s  work goes  in this direction, but its  exuberant thins out its structural efficiency. Other great works of structural art remain hidden in cars and landing gears un known of and unheard of operating silently and efficiently. We get only excited when it is intentionally elevated into design, especially when its forms are pleasing. Joris Laarman is working in this direction taking a leaf out of Antonio Guadi’s book. Guadi was a fanatic form finder. When we found that forces from his towers hit the ground at an angle, he tilted his columns accordingly. It’s refreshing to see, once again,  new work that is inspired by the flow of forces made possible by advances in rapid prototyping technologies.  These forms may not be the easiest to fabricate but they point in the right direction – that the flow of force has generative capabilities. It is this very capacity, that shapes our bones, our muscles and all things that are living.

Such designs bring to our attention the fundamental contradiction between Euclidean forms (still thought by many to be ideal) and optimal natural forms which are phenomenally more efficient. It exposes the irrationality of the rational movement in architecture that made us believe in the efficiencies of inefficient form. So, once again, nature presents us an opportunity to learn how its structural genius may  result in pleasing forms.

Written by Sivam Krish

March 11, 2010 at 2:26 am

Letting materials speak

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Philosophers specialize in taking us out of the orbit of reality.  But, Manual DeLanda– surprised me, with a   philosophy  grounded on reality – on materials.

He unravels how materials dictate generative processes. While most credit the genome for natures creative process, DeLanda credits materials . He points out that

Materials have creative power of their own

Matter he says is Morphogenetically charged. Genes only play a role in orchestrating a pre-existing build capacity. He points out that “  orderly behavior can arise spontaneously”. Being a philosopher he is able to point out where things went wrong in our thinking about design, our historic practice of imposing our will on insert material – which has remained at the heart of Western thinking on design. Such crude imposition sadly, leads to the destruction of the  material world around us.

He points out that “form can emerge from matter without being imposed by the rational human mind” and suggest that,

artists enter into a partnership in the genesis of form

He convincingly argues against ideas of perfection – which has plagued design thinking for many centuries. Nature, he points out creates a pool of design, each slightly different within the same species as diversity. He points this  out as an essential part of their ability to evolve. He argues that it is heterogeneity and variety that drives evolution. He urges us to develop “a positive idea of differences“. Uniformity then implies  the inability to evolve – an end of the road phenomena for species that have no future.

You may find his article on ” Deleuze and the Use of Genetic Algorithm in Architecture ” interesting. But if you wish to spend an hour unlearning your lives learning on design. You may want to watch this.

Many thanks to the design morphogenesis blog for bringing this paradigm breaking philosopher to our notice.

Written by Sivam Krish

February 16, 2010 at 4:22 am

Computational Form Finding

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An inspiring presentation by Neri Oxman with some break through thinking – on what design processes should be. Inspired of course by Nature, and enabled by new material manufacturing processes.

She asks some very important questions:

What is the origin of form ? How do we invent form?  Where do we begin ?

Instead of asking what the object wants to be, she asks what does the material want to be ? This was the same question that drove the visionary designers like Bukminister Fuller, Lugi Nevri , Felix Candela and Frie Otto – the form finders of a previous generation.  Their material inspired forms stand in sharp contrast to the tortured architectural forms that we see today, which  are often painfully at odds with the nature of the materials and processes that they are built out of. However, they are “forms that are now possible” . Despite esoteric claims, they are often massively inefficient in all forms of performance, except in advertising their own presence. Neri  is making a clear argument for material driven design, where forms are computationally derived by incorporating engineering rules into generative scheme itself.

The other important point she makes is that

Nature authors not forms but processes… recipes that mix material and environment together, and from these mixtures form emerge.

She calls this Computationally Enabled Form Finding.  Her PhD at MIT is about bringing together material properties and environmental constraints and properties, mixing them together  generate form out of it. She argues  for designing systems that incorporate performance criteria.

She reinforces some ideas in this blog about constraints. But she relegates designers to “editor of constraints”. The designer she says    ” becomes a Gardener,  an experimenter that generates lots of options, eliminating and working towards environmental fitness”. She recommends that design should start from analysis  from through material properties. Nature she points out is a grand material engineer. It knows how to organize matter and it designs multi-functionality. She has applied some of these lessons in her own work. She points out that our bones  are doing the analysis, modeling and the fabrication simultaneously as part of the  same process. But in design, we don’t. We separate analysis, modeling and fabrication.

I am not sure how designers are going to react to her thoughts. They probably will ignore her. We should not. In Neri’s thinking,  there are some critical gems that address the quest of environmentalist (and other types of sensible people) : how to design super efficiently, with consideration to materials,  enabled by new fabrication processes and  computational capacities that are available today with due consideration to the limitations of the world we live in.

Written by Sivam Krish

February 5, 2010 at 1:18 am