Thursday, September 11, 2008

An Entrance to the Labyrinth

The unlikely "success" of my Pavilion for Oblivion and Stormhouse projects implies that if I have a particular forte as an architectural designer, it is as a fantasist; on the other hand, perhaps if I have a particular strength as a fantasist it seems to lay with fantasies concerning architecture. Now, I would have developed these projects even if they were destined to never be published; it's something I do with my spare time (such as it is). And I have recently been considering a thematically-related project, as yet untitled. It seems to me that since I have the opportunity with this blog to demonstrate the whole development process, I should make this and similar items a recurring topic.

The dry double chasms of the great valley fold back slightly, split confusedly into four or five lesser channels, and then abruptly terminate in a cliff-bound, sunken plain composed of patches of dune divided by gullies and small rocky outcroppings. There doesn't seem to be a name to that depression; for the moment (or until I learn its historic moniker) let us call it the Plain of the Knot, for that seems to be its role in ending the wanderings of the valley. To the north of the Knot the rocks rise to the inevitable badlands, here called (picturesquely enough) the Ditches of Fortune; to the south the plain joins the circular remains of a great crater and then the uplands of the Plain of Sinai.

To the west is (finally) the Labyrinth of the Night. In the mornings a white fog courses through the grabens of the Labyrinth; at certain times of year, under the right conditions, the mist will flow from the mouths of the labyrinth like the ghost of a catastrophic flood and fill the near sandy lowlands and arroyos of the Knot, leaving a rime of bright frost on the ridges of the dunes.

One might expect that there would be a limited number of entrances to the Labyrinth...say, three...and that some ominous distinction would be attached to each. But in fact, there is no such obvious set of choices; there are in fact at least six major passes into the maze, from fifteen to five miles wide, along with countless hidden paths through or over the western cliffs.

Exactly what choice should the weary traveler make then? Or is a choice to be made for him? For that matter, is he a pilgrim seeking or an exile under sentence? These distinctions have not been made clear at this point.

But surely there should be some monument to this cusp in his journey...and a vantage point for surveying the route or routes ahead towards whatever destiny he expects or which awaits him in the obscurity of the Labyrinth.

The Knot is larger than one might imagine it, much like all the terrain features in this region: 180 miles north to south, approximately 75 east to west. Near the center of this irregular oval there is a smaller plateau or natural terrace, approximately 900 feet higher than most of the surrounding basin of the Knot. Approximately 8 miles wide, it is shaped like a ginkgo leaf, with the "stem" pointing into the maze. Given the dearth of any comparably-distinctive areas, this small mesa will have to do. To the immediate west of the stem is an irregular pit or sinkhole, approximately 2300 feet deeper than the level of the plain of the Knot, that could potentially have some value.

I know, from the map, that the high point of the stem of the Leaf should be the best point for a vista of the western cliffs including the closest entrance to the Labyrinth. Unfortunately, what images I have from this vantage (I am not sure they should be referred to as photographs), while beguiling in the typical sort of way that views of deserts and mountains often are, do not seem to clearly indicate that one is looking at something more than just such a view, something as potentially arresting as a natural maze with inescapably Cthonic overtones. As with so much of the geography hereabouts, "from the ground" much of the potential significance of the vista seems lost...even on those rare occasions when the fog is said to pour from the Labyrinth into the Knot, no doubt breaking around the stem of the Leaf, it is doubtful that this overlook would measure up even to what Friedrich's frock-coated Wanderer Above the Mist sees from his less objectively sublime vantage.

Well, then: that should be at least part of the program. I must assist the pilgrim/exile/traveler in perceiving the almost-delirious idiosyncrasy of his situation.

A first thought is to double that Labyrinth: I shall make a symbol of a symbol of an old story that was a symbol of something else, perhaps. As the real Labyrinth cuts into the western plateau, let my Voodoo doll of a miniature Labyrinth cut into the mesa of the Leaf. The imposition of that network that meanders near-infinitely across the uplands on the finite surface of the bluff will no doubt create all sorts of unusual issues. Already I see how one spur...minor, south-pointing, and ending nowhere in the real the miniature cuts provocatively towards the high point of the Leaf, near the stem where I had already resolved to place some sort of significant programmatic element (a Tower, perhaps, already cloven and therefore requiring no thunderbolt). Coincidentally, the portion of the miniaturized Labyrinth that extends past the mesa to west then curves and sends a single path towards a high point or island in the fore-mentioned sinkhole (which deserves its own grotesquely-portentous name like the other geographic features I have taken the liberty of labeling: I shall henceforth refer to it as the Pit).

...a good place for a monument to minotaurs, if I have ever seen one.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Algorithms for Architectonics

More examination of the generation of architecture through algorithms.

The most convincing algorithmic processes--meaning, that they generate shapes that most resemble architectural forms--with which I have yet experimented seem to be composed of sheets of a plywood-like material along with various rods and columns that seem to be proportionally similar to wood framing or steel-tube frames. But of course this resemblance to architectural form, or even to real physical objects, breaks down on close examination. It's easy to find bits of the generated model that behave in ways that building components or even real objects cannot: at best they defy the possibility of gravity, while at other times they project through or intersect with neighboring forms in a fashion that solid matter (and building components) cannot.

Now, with careful tweaking of the set of operations that constitute these algorithms, I could conceivably create a situation where those flaws did not occur, and where the generated shapes even included inhabitable space. Of course, it is possible that by so doing I am adding an entirely pointless iteration to the design process: I no longer design the architecture itself, but instead I design a set of formulas which themselves design the architecture the way I would have without the mechanism of the generative algorithm. If there is a difference between the architecture I would design and what the algorithm designs, the difference is there because either I made mistakes in designing the algorithm, or else the limitations of the system employing the algorithm are such that it cannot yet completely simulate my design process.

Of course, the preceding assumes that the design of architecture is in fact a procedural process (i.e., a mathematical algorithm) itself. I'm relatively certain that I do not agree with that assumption.

It has occurred to me that my concerns with the algorithmic generation of architecture (1-the result is not realizable without extreme effort; 2) the process includes a pointless iteration; 3) the process assumes
architectural design is equivalent to math) could be rendered moot if I used the technology in a completely different manner, as already suggested in a previous post.

I am proposing that this generative technique would be far more useful as part of an architectural cognate for
decalcomania or similar techniques for creating suggestive forms that, following elaboration or subtractive editing, would not otherwise be conceivable. These painting techniques--popularized by such Surrealist artists as Max Ernst--were belated rediscoveries or implementations of an inventive device originally recommended by Leonardo da Vinci in the treatise A Way of Stimulating and Arousing the Mind to Various Inventions, where he advised that one should “look at a wall spotted with stains, or with a mixture of different kinds of stones; if you have to invent some scene, you may discover a similarity with different kinds of landscapes, embellished with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys and hills in a varied arrangement: or, again, you may see battles and figures in action or strange faces and costumes, and an endless variety of objects which you could reduce to complete and well-drawn forms.” I believe that the key is to begin with a complex field of visual information of limited organization and a restricted range of components; the human mind will begin to edit this limited chaos in such a way to percieve a meaningful shape pattern that is/was not there before that act of perception.*

It seems to me that algorithmic generation of three-dimensional forms could satisfy that requirement for that complex-field-of-many-objects-of-a-limited-range-of-types in a way particularly suitable for the creation of architectural forms if the components generated by the algorithm are reminiscent of the typical forms that compose architecture. In other words: 1) I create a formula that generates shapes in a unusual pattern (an act of design or chance); 2) I observe the generated assemblage and allow my meaning-seeking mind to find something there other than mathematically-prescribed alignments; 3) I elaborate, delete, simplify and otherwise edit the assemblage until the meaningful shape that was described by that vision (or delusion) is all that remains of the original math-generated assemblage.

*I should admit that I have only found quotations from this work of Da Vinci's in other essays and books. I do intend to find a full copy as soon as I can.