CHU SIN CHUNG Adrian 332874 Twenty‐first Century Architecture ABPL 90117 Manifesto Friday 3.15 ‐ 4.15 Architecture 524 Toby Horrocks We are living in a world where everything is digital. From the moment we wake up to the moment we get back into bed, our activities are constantly intertwined with interactions with digital technologies. Computers affect our communications, our productivity, our security, our finance, our entertainment. It is therefore not surprising that computers are also affecting our creativity. Creativity, a very anthropocentric concept, and yet computers are increasingly carving their way into a discipline that was thought to be the realm of emotions, experience and human sensibilities. While design has always been assisted by tools, the designer always seemed to have full control over the aesthetic outcome of the artifact. This, however, is changing now, and we should ask ourselves what level of control we as designers, still have over our designs and find ways to still exact our position as creators in a world where everything appears to be off the shelf, DIY and computer generated. Historically, there has come a time in the past where architects have been deprived of their authority over the design of buildings. That time was the industrial revolution, a time that saw the separation of engineering and architecture, the advent of the new building typologies and the advancement in transport, material and structural technologies. The result of that was that new architectural typologies such as bridges and railway stations were being designed and built by engineers, while architects have often been relegated to the realm of paper architecture.
Menai Suspension Bridge (1819-1824), Wales, by Thomas Telford
Bridge designs at Stourport by T F Pritchard King’s Cross Station, London, George Turnbull.
CHU SIN CHUNG Adrian 332874 Twenty‐first Century Architecture ABPL 90117 Manifesto Friday 3.15 ‐ 4.15 Architecture 524 Toby Horrocks St. Pancras Station, London, Barlow and Ordish,
Eiffel Tower, Paris, Gustave Eiffel, 1889
Only two of the designers of the above structures were architects:
Crystal Palace, Joseph Paxton, London, 1851,
Thomas Pritchard – Architect Thomas Telford – Civil engineer George Turnbull – Engineer Barlow and Ordish – Engineers Joseph Paxton – Gardener and architect Gustave Eiffel – Civil Engineer
It is only with the advent of modernism in the 20th century that architects started to assume back their authority as the principal designers of buildings. In his publication Vers une Architecture, LeCorbusier embraced the role of engineers (and uses prototypes of airplanes, boats and cars) and embraced their role as an integral part of the design process. This shows that when architects fail to embrace new technologies and trends how easily they can lose design authority. With digital design, what is happening is that it has become so easy to allow computer programs to natively generate forms that often, the ‘hand’ of the architect is no longer visible, and the particularity of the aesthetics is instead left by the signature of the program –
CHU SIN CHUNG Adrian 332874 Twenty‐first Century Architecture ABPL 90117 Manifesto Friday 3.15 ‐ 4.15 Architecture 524 Toby Horrocks designers are not using the software, but are being used by it.1 The danger here is that digital media have become popular among a range of professions, and that many of these are trying to implement their expertise into architecture through this common medium (digital modeling). This usually happens nowadays because it is very easy to compile several sets of information and combine them into a process that will produce a particular outcome. These sets of information are usually referred to as parameters. Parameters are not, however, exclusive to digital designs. Parameters can be any piece of information (site conditions, budget, environmental conditions) that the architect will need to interpret and manipulate in order to create the optimum design. Another way of looking at parameters can be as constraints and limitations2, so that they create a framework inside which the architect will need to work – working inside the parameters. This is essentially how architecture was practised, with the architect being the decision maker as how each parameter will be used in the design process. The difference with digital design is that today there exist so many parameters that can potentially be integrated that the architect is often overwhelmed and this decision‐making role is often offset to someone or something else. The parametric program is often used to ‘absorb complexity.’3 The role of the architect then becomes ambiguous, even obsolete at times. Essentially, the form of the building then becomes defined by a series of numbers, formulas and equations, instead of lines and surfaces. I am not suggesting that architects no longer have any control at all, but that often their lack of skills in mathematics and programming (which are the physics behind these said computer programs) can prevent us from being fully aware of how exactly each parameter is affecting the aesthetics.
Douglas Rushkoff (2010) Victor Gane (2004), p.18 3 Patrick Schumacher (2008) 2
CHU SIN CHUNG Adrian 332874 Twenty‐first Century Architecture ABPL 90117 Manifesto Friday 3.15 ‐ 4.15 Architecture 524 Toby Horrocks Victor Gane classifies parameters as independent and explicit.4 5 The former is one that does not affect other parameters. The latter are parameters that affect other parameters. As an architecture student, I have experienced parametric modeling in 2 ways. One where the variables of a parameter are just in the form of a number slider, the value of which can be changed arbitrarily and therefore does not hold any particular significance. The other is where the variables are obtained from another parameter, and therefore the value of which has significance and cannot therefore be changed arbitrarily. Let us use 2 simple parametric rules to illustrate this. Example A
In example A I have arranged a series of columns along the line. The number of columns is determined by the value I assign to the number slider. In this respect I am only using the script as a more efficient way of modeling my columns. Ultimately, I am the one who makes the decision of how many columns are to be arranged. In example B, the value fed for the number of columns is dictated by another parameter (in this instance the size of each column – the smaller my columns, the more I will need.) This means that the decision of how many columns I want along that line will be dictated by the decision of how big I want my columns to be. While this may appear to be a fairly simple compromise to manage, the 4 5
Victor Gane (2004) p. 18 Victor Gane (2004) p. 23
CHU SIN CHUNG Adrian 332874 Twenty‐first Century Architecture ABPL 90117 Manifesto Friday 3.15 ‐ 4.15 Architecture 524 Toby Horrocks higher the level of complexity of the parametric interactions, the more difficult it is to make such decisions since it is more difficult to predict what the outcome will be. At this point we discuss Mario Carpo’s interpretation of the Deleuzian concept of the objectile. Deleuze describes an objectile as being a generic object.6 If we follow the mathematical trend of the previous examples, we could therefore define an objectile as a generic object defined by a rule (the algorithm) and a domain (the parameters), and only when these two become specific does an object arise. In other words, an objectile is an infinite number of possible objects that exist within the boundaries set by the rule and the domain. So the hand of the designer is seen not in the aesthetics of the final building, but the aesthetic of the objectile. It might be difficult to reconcile the idea that a designer has no real control over the final outcome. Patrick Schumacher and Mario Carpo are both advocates of the idea that designers of the digital age should design objectiles and not objects.7 I disagree with this. Let us, for a minute, move away from architecture and discuss another form of art: music. Just like architecture, music is a creative composition of different elements into an arrangement of sounds that together constitute a coherent melody. Those said elements include pitch, tone, rhythm, beat and chords amongst others. Some of these parameters have fixed values and cannot arbitrarily be changed – notes (do, re, mi etc) have fixed frequencies and chords have predefined sequences of notes. Nevertheless, composers are still able to work within these set parameters and are still able to create unique songs and melodies that often bear the composer’s signature. A very popular chord arrangement in popular music is C (do) G (sol) Am (La minor) F (Fa). Thousands of classics have followed this arrangement, and yet all of them have been identified individually, without any ambiguity related to the chordal arrangements. The way the composers have arranged 6 7
Jagodzinski (2005) p. 138 Mario Carpo (2011) p. 127
CHU SIN CHUNG Adrian 332874 Twenty‐first Century Architecture ABPL 90117 Manifesto Friday 3.15 ‐ 4.15 Architecture 524 Toby Horrocks the musical parameters and emphasized some elements over others is what ultimately led to a particular musical signature. Composers are successful because they have studied the relationships between these elements and are able to create dynamics that they can control. The music analogy serves to show that composers can create unique quintessential objects (specific musical pieces) from objectiles (preset musical arrangements). The digital world has presented architecture with new challenges and new opportunities. How are we to survive? Architects need to know scripting in order to generate an objectile (the algorithm), but also how to use these algorithms with a specific set of parameters in order to create specific objects and therefore retain full design and aesthetic authority. Mario Carpo, who has been influential on the subject of parametric design, makes a statement that goes, however, against this manifesto. He states that the role of architects today is to design objectile and allow end users to create the objects out of these. Such a statement would be tantamount to saying that, referring back to the musical analogy, anyone or anything could build around a preset arrangement of chords and still produce a musical piece. While this is completely possible and has indeed happened several times, the quality of the final product will ultimately suffer – it will have no signature, no soul. This goes in line with the writings of Mark Burry – he argues that scripting should be an integral part of an architect’s education and essential to his skills sets.8 The problem is that scripting takes a long time to learn and requires prior knowledge in mathematics. But if scripting is becoming the language the world is using to function, then architects need to be the best architectural scripters. Mark Burry claims that in order for an architect to work with a scriptor, he must himself know how to script.9 I agree with this but believe this should be pushed further – I think that architects and designers should be proficient enough in scripting to 8 9
Mark Burry (2011), p.45 Mark Burry (2011), p.30
CHU SIN CHUNG Adrian 332874 Twenty‐first Century Architecture ABPL 90117 Manifesto Friday 3.15 ‐ 4.15 Architecture 524 Toby Horrocks create their own scripts from beginning to end. Why? Because we need to know exactly what effect each scripting decision will have on the final design. Let us remember that parameters come as independent and explicit. Adequate knowledge of scripting will allow architects to change the algorithms to obtain a specific desired outcome when using explicit parameters, and to change the independent parameters to fit the framework of the objectile. This will result in a total control over the design through the continual redefinition of the objectile and of the parameters, and not merely a pseudo‐control that will allow end users to decide on the final aesthetic result of the building. Moreover, design and architecture are far from being the only realms of parametricism and scripting – virtually all other professions have adopted digital technologies – engineering and environmental science also use scripting and parametricism to achieve greater productivity. If architects do not use the same levels of programming in their profession, then the dialogue between these industries is discontinued – previously architects spoke of a column in terms of ornamentation, repetition, verticality; engineers is terms of compression, reinforcement, bending moments. The dialogue still existed because the language of one was understood by the other and an efficient partnership was possible. Working with numbers and equations has always been more intuitive for more technical professions such as engineering. In this respect, because of the nature of their profession, engineers tend to be more proficient at scripting. To maintain a form of dialogue, architects must also develop a similar digital language that will be capable of processing the engineers’ information, but at the same time be flexible enough for architects to maintain control over these parameters and authority over the aesthetic outcome. It all comes back to the fact that architects need to have a full understanding of the parameters they are using, and the way these interact with one another following a specific set of rules. I am not suggesting that architects, in addition to becoming scripting experts, also need to be fully fledged engineers, environmental architects or any other professional attached to architecture. I am
CHU SIN CHUNG Adrian 332874 Twenty‐first Century Architecture ABPL 90117 Manifesto Friday 3.15 ‐ 4.15 Architecture 524 Toby Horrocks simply saying that we need to have a sufficient quantum of scripting knowledge to be able to understand their scripting people to efficiently use their input without them having excessive or unwanted influence on the design. That amount of knowledge that is needed always tends to be towards the more extensive end. Ganes posits that architects need to be half programmers.10 I say architects need to be as competent programmers as they are competent architects. Scripting should be an integral part of the skills of the new generation of architects just as the ability to draw with a pen on a piece of paper was a skill that all architects were assumed to have before and even well into the computer age – architects never needed anyone else to make their drawings, or read and interpret an engineer’s drawings. This should be the same for scripting. It is only then that architects will be able to maintain full aesthetic and design control over their buildings. Otherwise, we will only become what I call ‘Ikea architects’ who only sell objectiles inside which digital interactors (end users, engineers, software packages themselves) can ‘DIY’ their way in and create objects that might not have been in line with the initial design intentions of the architect. Both our doom and our salvation lie in the power of scripting. If we do not embrace it to its FULL extent (not just understand it but master it), we are destined to lose our authority as the maestro11 of building design. However, with the proper establishment of rules and the ability to break and change them at will, we shall prevail, and as Douglas Rushkoff rightly says ‘whoever holds the keys to programming, ends up building the reality in which the rest of us live.’12 Ultimately, the role of the architect will not have changed – we shall still be the ones to decide which and in what ways parameters are being used to produce a design.
Victor Gane (2004), p. 42 Kieran and Timberlake (2004), p. 22 12 Rushkoff (2010) 11
CHU SIN CHUNG Adrian 332874 Twenty‐first Century Architecture ABPL 90117 Manifesto Friday 3.15 ‐ 4.15 Architecture 524 Toby Horrocks References 1. Burry, M., 2011. Scripting Cultures. Architectural Design and Programming. Wiley: West Sussex. 2. Carpo, M., 2011. The Alphabet and the Algorithm. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Cambridge. 3. Gane, V., 2004. Parametric Design – A Paradigm Shift? Massachusetts Institute of Technology. [Thesis]
Available: http://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/28478 Accessed: 29th September 2012
4. Jagodzinski J., ‘Virtual Reality’s Differential Perception: on the Significance of Deleuze (and Lacan) for the Future of Visual Art Education in a Machinic Age’ in Visual Arts Research. Vol. 31. No. 1(60), Intersection of Technology with Art Education (2005), pp. 129‐144.
5. Kieran S., and Timberlake J., 2001. Refabricating Architecture. McGraw Hill: New York.
6. Rushkoff, D., 2010. Program or be Programmed – Ten Commands for a Digital Age. Orbooks: New York. 7. Schumacher, P., (2008) Parametricism as Style – Parametricist Manifesto. 11th Architecture Biennale, Venice. [Online] Available: http://www.patrikschumacher.com/Texts/Parametricism%20as%20Style.htm Accessed: 29th September 2012
8. Van Alen Institute, 2011. Mario Carpo: The Alphabet and the Algorithm. [Video] Available at: http://vimeo.com/30033229 Accessed: [21 August 2012]