Paper sigradi2008_180:
Gulliver in the land of Generative Design

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id sigradi2008_180
authors Vincent, Charles
year 2008
title Gulliver in the land of Generative Design
source SIGraDi 2008 - [Proceedings of the 12th Iberoamerican Congress of Digital Graphics] La Habana - Cuba 1-5 December 2008
summary The current trend in architectural design towards architectural computing has been treated both from a philosophical standing point and as an operational systems’ problem, in a quest for explications which could at last break ground for a more broad development and adoption of design tools. As Kostas Terzidis (2007) puts it, the intuitiveness that architects have put on so high a pedestal seems to be the central issue to be dealt with by both views. There seems to be no apparent shortcut toward the reconciliation between traditional practice and new media and most certainly it is not only a problem of interface design, but one of design method clarification and reinterpretation of those methods into computing systems. Furthermore, there’s no doubt left as to whether computing systems can generate such new patterns as to impact our own understanding of architecture. But even if computer algorithms can make possible the exploration of abstract alternatives to an abstract initial idea, as in Mathematica and Processing, the issue of relating abstract and geometric representations of human centered architecture lays in the hands of architects, programmers or, better yet, architect-programmers. What seems now to be the relevant change is that architectural design might escape from the traditional sequence embedded in the need – program – design iterations – solution timeline, substituted by a web of interactions among differing experimental paths, in which even the identification of needs is to be informed by computing. It is interesting to note that the computational approach to architectural design has been praised for the formal fluidity of bubbles and Bezier shapes it entails and for the overcoming of functionalist and serialization typical of modern architecture. That approach betrays a high degree of canonic fascination with the tools of the trade and very little connection to the day to day chores of building design. On the other hand, shall our new tools and toys open up new ways of thinking and designing our built landscape? What educational issues surface if we are to foster wider use of the existing technologies and simultaneously address the need to overtake mass construction? Is mass customization the answer for the dead end modern architecture has led us to? Can we let go the humanist approach begun in Renascence and culminated in Modernism or shall we review that approach in view of algorithmic architecture? Let us step back in time to 1726 when Swift’s ‘Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World by Lemuel Gulliver’ was first published. In Swift’s fierce critic of what seemed to him the most outrageous ideas, he conceived a strange machine devised to automatically write books and poetry, in much the same generative fashion that now, three centuries later, we begin to cherish. “Every one knew how laborious the usual method is of attaining to arts and sciences; whereas by his contrivance, the most ignorant person at a reasonable charge, and with a little bodily labour, may write books in philosophy, poetry, politicks, law, mathematics and theology, without the least assistance from genius or study. He then led me to the frame, about the sides whereof all his pupils stood in ranks. It was twenty foot square, placed in the middle of the room. The superficies was composed of several bits of wood, about the bigness of a dye, but some larger than others. They were all linked together by slender wires. These bits of wood were covered on every square with paper pasted on them; and, on these papers were written all the words of their language in their several moods, tenses, and declensions, but without any order. The professor then desired me to observe, for he was going to set his engine at work. The pupils at his command took each of them hold of an iron handle, whereof there were forty fixed round the edges of the frame; and giving them a sudden turn, the whole disposition of words was entirely changed. He then commanded six and thirty of the lads to read the several lines softly as they appeared upon the frame; and where they found three or four words together that might make part of a sentence, they dictated to the four remaining boys who were scribes. This work was repeated three or four times, and at every turn the engine was so contrived, that the words shifted into new places, as the square bits of wood moved upside down.” (Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, A Voyage to Balnibarbi) What astonishing forecast did Swift show in that narrative that, in spite of the underlying incredulity and irony, still clarifies our surprise when faced to what might seem to some of us just an abandonment of all that architects and designers have cherished: creativeness and inventiveness. Yet, we could argue that such a radical shift in paradigm occurred once when master builders left the construction ground and took seat at drafting boards. The whole body of design and construction knowledge was split into what now seem to us just specialties undertaken by more and more isolated professionals. That shift entailed new forms of representation and prediction which now each and all architects take for granted. Also, Cartesian space representation turned out to be the main instrument for professional practice, even if one can argue that it is not more than the unfolding of stone carving techniques that master builders and guilds were so fond of. Enter computing and all its unfolding, i.e. DNA coding, fractal geometry, generative computing, nonlinear dynamics, pattern generation and cellular automata, as a whole new chapter in science, and compare that to conical perspective, descriptive and analytical geometry and calculus, and an image begins to form, delineating a separation between architect and digital designer. In previous works, we have tried approaching the issues regarding architects education in a more consensual way. But it seems now that the whole curricular corpus might be changed as well. The very foundations upon which we prepare future professionals shall change, not only in College, but in High School as well. In this paper, we delve further into the disconnect between current curricula and digital design practices and suggest new disciplinary grounds for a new architectural education.
keywords Educational paradigm; Design teaching; Design methods;
series SIGRADI
email cvincent@mackenzie.br
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