Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Algorithms for Nostalgia

Since the subject of my first post appeared previously in several sites on the Internet, I feel that my second should be something heretofore unpublished.

Math-driven shape creation still seems all the rage, judging by a quick image search with Google under the term "generative architecture." It was just beginning to be "the thing" when I finally finished my masters; now it seems to dominate the imagery coming out of the cutting-edge architecture firms and bleeding-edge architecture schools.

Although a friend recently suggested to me that this scheme for largely formal development is essentially a perversion of the much vaunted concept of parametric modeling, I really don't have difficulty with the idea of using unusual techniques to find unique shapes. I'm all about imagery and form after all. To what are we supposed to limit parametrics? Window schedules? "BIM"? (Does anyone really go into architecture to do estimates and schedules?)

This is how it works: the script-kiddie plugs in the formula, hits "go", and--Bingo!--cool shapes. There might be other motives inferred by the designer/scripter, but the eye-candy (swoop-y, chunky, Voronoi-bubbly, stringy, or strongly-reminiscent-of-intestines...the cool-not-much-like-your-parents'-buildings-shape-factor) is clearly in the driver's seat.

Algorithmic architectural designs also make a strange appeal, I sense, to classical metaphysics. I have the feeling that I am expected to attach a kind of sacredness to the architectural shapes generated by those tedious little computer programs, much as I am expected to discern a sacerdotal ambiance in the products of the ancient forms of procedural design, accomplished (undoubtedly) with rules of proportion, straight-edges, and lots of unusual variations on the mechanical compass as opposed to a scripting language. This must be an oddly pervasive remnant of that hoary religion of Pythagoras': numbers and mathematical relationships are perfect, independent of and unaffected by our silly meatspace foibles, and thus deserving of our veneration. A building whose shape is defined by mathematical relationships is by extension also deserving of our veneration...more than one that is not so defined, anyway.

Maybe. I suspect that the "harmony" some people claim to find in certain relentlessly-mathematics-ized buildings is there because they expected it (having been told beforehand it was there), and not because there is some perceptible channel, thanks to the form-generating algorithm, to some idealized mundus alter.

Nevertheless I recently spent at little time playing with form-through-scripts. Channeling some angry forgotten Dadaist, I decided to forgo the swoopy organics and set the thing to position sheets of plywood and various typical sizes of wood studs. I hit the button and:

Instant super-sized high-rise favela! Yeah! I'll take that instead of some giant pile of animal innards any day! (We all know how much architects like shanty towns with their creative use of materials, as long as we don't have to live there.
LINK to beautiful irony.)

Well, of course it isn't really a functional if oddly-oversize shanty town. The generator isn't that intelligent; it doesn't know that you need a door here, a leaking roof there, an open sewer drain here. I could tweak the script forever until it came closer to producing the "real thing" (images/models of the real thing, in other words) but it's easier to just delete the bits that look really non-believable (studs that punch through sheets, etc.) and go with an evocative image.

And this concept (of an evocative collection of ordinary or even base things) suggested to me that I edit the script results to propose (frame) an alternate metaphysics, one beyond the banal "beyond" of typical (and typically unquestioned) idealized worlds, including the one referenced through the crypto-Pythagorean veneration of mathematical relationships.

Here's an idealized mundus alter of plywood, studs, and badly-welded, gravity-defying steel tubes.

Think of this as a petty homage to de Chirico, specifically
The Nostalgia of the Infinite of 1912.

I have noticed, incidentally,
signs that a certain reaction against script-driven models is developing...perhaps the beginning of a typical tidal surge of architectural floccinaucinihilipilification (yes, that is a word).

LINK to Picasa Web Album for this post.