Generative Design

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Archive for the ‘Emergence’ Category

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.

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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

Can Architects learn from Generative Music ?

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Unraveling the mathematical magic of music seem to have been the pet pre-occupation of many great scientists including Euclid who wrote “elements of music” and Sir Issac Newton who felt obliged to divide the naturally occurring spectrum into seven colors, one for each note of a musical scale.

Our current understanding of music is different. It is based on emergence and complexity. Hence, to generate music or any aesthetic experience we need to base generative schemes on these and not on older Euclidean ideas of  geometric grammar, golden rations and other constructs  that ruled the Renaissance  world locking the aesthetic frame-work of the Western world  with the concept of “rational order” for a few more centuries.

The understanding of complexity is of recent origin – made possible by the advent of computers. The study of evolution and ecology has also contributed greatly to our new understanding of order – which is based on complexity. Historically, architects have always had a philosophical frame-work for design.

Perhaps this originated in their early role of legitimizing the divinity of kings through divinely ordered proportions and geometric logic.  This clarity is thankfully now lost. Few contemporary  architects, succeed in providing any kind of coherent theoretical explanation for their designs.

Generative Music  has succeeded in creating aesthetic artifacts

We are yet to see the fruits of Generative Design in architecture. May be, it will grow out to the mind numbing complexity that Generative Design is mis-associated with. Perhaps this juvenile reaction to the Euclidean order will pass by us or mature into something that is more engaging. May be, generative music can teach us how to create constructs that are complex yet pleasing. Generative music is now fairly close to human generated music in its richness, complexity and capacity to influence human emotions. Perhaps generative music has a better grasp of generative frame works.

Generative music frameworks are currently classified as :

  • Linguistic/Structural
  • Interactive/Behavioral
  • Creative/Procedural
  • Biological/Emergent

More on this on the Generative Music Wiki .  Wonder if these frameworks apply to generative architecture ?

The quest for a unified aesthetic frame tends to bind  from, color and music together.  They  influence each other as this video on generative music by form+format illustrates.

http://vimeo.com/8525901

Another excellent example, where the generative program is continuously improvising which I found is in Arturs Blog.

If musicions and computers can jive, why cannot designers do the same ?

Written by Sivam Krish

January 17, 2010 at 1:19 pm