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ARCHITECTURE DESIGN STUDIO:

AIR HUANZHI CHEN


WHO AM I? Hello. My name is Huanzhi Chen, if it is too hard for you to pronounce or remember, you can also call me William. I come from China originally, but since I have a passionate interest in western culture, I chose to become an Australian citizen. I have been educated here in Melbourne since year 9. When I was little I loved painting and making models. I was the arty person in my businessman family. Since I still could not jump out of that businessman mind inherited from my family, I decided not to become an painter but a space maker-an architect. In fact, it wasn’t a bad choice after all. I am now enjoying studying architecture and I am looking forward to the exciting world of digital architecture.


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MY EXPERIENCE WITH DIGITAL DESIGN My first encounter with digital design was in the year 1 Virtual Environments when Rhino was taught to produce a lantern. I enjoyed the subject in both the design process and the design outcome. Since then I used Rhino to work on a few projects with the aids of V-ray to add a bit more effect in presentation. Outside the school, I used Rhino, Photoshop and Illutrator to help some of my friends to visualize their new home (see pic 4) or to design a logo for them (see pic 5). Digital Design had opened a new world for me and I wish Studio Air can once again expand my horizon in this area.


Architecture as a Discourse [W]hile Glenn Murcutt holds tight the Pritz-

ker Prize in his arms smiling at his hand-drawn designs, on the other side of the world, Greg Lynn is presenting his formal experiments with use of complex computer algorithms, which stun the eyes of people. Nowadays, architecture as a discourse has been split into small groups based on different design process and focus. While some architects is scratching their head designing a structural system with vertical columns and horizontal beams that acts as the skin and aesthetics of their building, there are architects who attempt to widen the horizon of architecture discourse by using digital technology as a tool to generate complex, yet logical forms. “To make architecture is to map the world in some way, to intervene, to signify: it is a political acts.” (Dutton et al, 1996) Architecture had never been just a built object but rather it has a power to speak and communicate with the environment. Glenn Murcutt surely speaks his Australian origins with his delicately assembled houses, but the best ‘speech’ by an architecture is the result of the best response of its architect to his surrounding environment, one that listens and thus ‘intervenes’ the era. What kind of era are we in? When the text here in this document are to be edited without a drop of ink or a piece of rubber, we should realize we are in the era of information and technology, an era never existed before. When computers allow us to do more, why should we stay with vertical columns and horizontal beams?

Not to say that Glenn Murcutt’s design principles aren’t sensitive to what is happening now--in fact, local materials, simple construction process and passive designs of his projects express his standing and sensitivity in environmental practices. However, there are more that he can do with the assistance of technology and at the same time remain these principles. Greg Lynn on the other hand, took advantage of digital technology to expand the possibility in architectural forms, he seeks non-modularity to forms, while keeping in mind of the environmental responsibility. Both Greg Lynn and Glenn Murcutt represent their group of architect who contribute to the discourse of architecture in 21st century. There is no right or wrong approach but there is a better one among them who take technology as the key to open up a brand new century of architecture.


Without being Modular Greg Lynn

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he Korean Presbyterian Church is one of a few project of Greg Lynn that come to realization. It was done as a result of collaborative work with two other firms.

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n his world of design, Greg Lynn is not very interested in simple ideal geometric structures likes those vertical column and perfect arches. But rather, he learns from the nature by studying the generic forms and generic evolution of organisms which he discovered a pattern of change in these organism (Greg Lynn, 2005), and it is this ‘pattern of change’ that inspires his works both formally and structurally.

[T]

he Korean Presbyterian Church has a series of roof covering above the main stairs. Without being modular, these roofs are varied in size, structure and distance in a similar way. According to Lynn, it is a ‘calculus based definition’ that make the roofs change in pattern. This change of pattern defined by calculus not only contribute to the formal features of the church but also to the spatial experience of visitor- the rational change in distance and opening between components create a high sense dynamic movement in space.


Computation in Architecture [N]owadays almost every part of our daily

life is closely connected with computer technology. From the moment of our phone alarm waking us up punctually in the morning, to when we are successfully transferred to the floor of our office by lifts, then to the moment we reply an e-mail, our day is run by computers and program motivated environments. Just like what Kalay1 thinks about computers, they are ‘superb analytical’ brains which can accurately accomplish what they were told to do. Of course, talking about accuracy and speed, human brains were never a good rival-- we can not wake ourselves up at 8 o’clock sharp, not to mention sending a message to a friend far away in seconds. Since we know the operation of computers were ran by programs that were programmed by humans, who also controls the thinking and responding logics of computers, so ultimately digital products, including that the digital design of architecture as our interests in this subject, were all produced through the creative and intelligent brains of humans. In the process of design there are qualitative factors and issues that computers, with its rational analytical function, cannot solve or comprehend since there aren’t any benchmarks or criteria. In this point of history where the architecture of ‘euclidean geometry of discrete volumes represented in Cartesian space...’2 has become less and less of people’s interests, what kinds of forms and compositions of architecture would find its place in the changing taste of general public is a question only can be answered by our brains. 1,2,3: Yehuda E. Kalay, Architecture’s New Media : Principles, Theories, and Methods of Computer-Aided Design (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004), pp. 5 - 25

“If we could find a way to take advantage of the abilities of computers where ours fall short, and use our own abilities where computer fall short, we would create a very powerful symbiotic design system.’3 I agree with Kalay’s idea about where the relationship between designers and CAD programs should end in the future . Theoretically, the best digitally designed architecture should be a combination of human intuition and computer rational abilities which one of them should be the complementary to the other. However, I do see the need to establish a clear understanding of the hierarchy between the two entities in this relationship. A question should arise and be answered: in an appropriate approach to digital design of architecture, does the rational and analytical functions of computer come first before human creativity, or in the other word, does creativity follow creation? According to a video that mentioned in the lecture, because the interfaces in programs needed for digital design had become more and more user-friendly, designers are becoming unable to understand how programs work and thus they have became more and more distanced apart. Therefore as a beginner in digital design of architecture, we students can easily fall into traps where we see all the flashy possibilities generated by computer programs, and then we bury our creativity in the process of claiming one of them as our own-- just because we know a few curves and a ‘Loft’ button can generate an organic form, we can mistakenly think that generation of form is only the result of curves and point. In this circumstance where human creativity is constrained by modular behav-


House Prototype in Long Island In forward kinematics, elements from top to bottom within the system are not connect, in inverse kinematics is opposite, since all elements are correlated by the ‘skeletons’

iors of computer programs, any creativity should be considered ‘fake creativity 4’ that it is only a creation of the program’s programer. The continuous development of such ‘creativity’ is heavily relied on the technical improvement of the program. As a result, this ‘creativity follows creation’ approach to digital architectural design is very limited. On the other hand, if ‘creation follows creativity’ finds its roots in the design process, digital architecture can probably see a more promising future. Buildings saw their formal limitations with a ‘creativity follows creation’ approach before Renaissance 5, as the improvement in architectural design were made after Renaissance, that the ‘creation follows creativity ‘ approach began to be employed, building forms revealed more opportunities and possibilities. 4. Lawson, Bryan (1999). ‘’Fake’ and‘Real’ Creativity using Computer Aided Design: Some Lessons from Herman Hertzberger’, in Proceedings of the 3rd Conference on Creativity & Cognition, ed. by Ernest Edmonds and Linda Candy (New York: ACM Press), pp. 174-179

Even to these days, this approach of architectural design is still strongly influential. Greg Lynn in his House Prototype In Long Island 6, used ‘inverse kinematics’, seemingly unrelated to traditional architectural forms, to create complex forms. By applying the principles of inverse kinematics, Greg Lynn constructed a ‘skeleton’ formed by ‘bones’ and ‘joints’. Similar to structure of human body, once a ‘bone’ is lifted by either internal forces or site-introduced forces, the other bones will also act accordingly due to the connection at the joints. The degree of the angle or height of which the bone can be lifted to is infinite and so is the form of the skeleton. Therefore if this skeleton is to put on a layer of skin to generate a form, then motion-based approach can generate tens of millions of forms. More importantly, this layer of skin depicts an or-

5. Kalay,2004 6,7. Kolarevic, Branko, Architecture in the Digital Age: Design and Manufacturing (New York; London: Spon Press, 2003), pp. 3 - 28


Mobius House by UNStudio

from the tradition architectural form of ‘euclidean ganic, smooth and continuous form, one that differ geometry of discrete volumes’. Greg Lynn used this project as a showcase for how the creative minds of human can integrate theories from other disciplines into architectural designs, and how analytical ability of computer become only a tool of simulation, to achieve this stunning design outcome. Similarly, architects from UNStudio borrowed mathematical theory the Mobius Strip as a point of departure, designed a private house 7. The design of the organizational and formal structures of the house was based the principles of Mobius Strip, the end result was an interesting space where the intertwining trajectory of the loop relates to the 24-hour living and working cycle of the family, where individual working spaces and bedrooms are aligned 4. Lawson, Bryan (1999). ‘’Fake’ and‘Real’ Creativity using Computer Aided Design: Some Lessons from Herman Hertzberger’, in Proceedings of the 3rd Conference on Creativity & Cognition, ed. by Ernest Edmonds and Linda Candy (New York: ACM Press), pp. 174-179

but collective areas are situated at the crossing of the paths. The clever borrowing not only made Modius House visually appealing, but also adds more depths to the form as it make the spatial experience more dynamic and human-focused with the ‘8’ shaped spatial organization and its internal functions. In this process of design, computation or computer program was only a tool of transferring concepts into readable construction drawings. Therefore, digital technology or computation do play an important role in the process of architectural design when human cannot do precise calculation, measuring or drawings. But Since human creativity should become the starting point of successful architecture design, computation is only a means to create this creative product. Creation should follow creativity. 5. Kalay,2004 6,7. Kolarevic, Branko, Architecture in the Digital Age: Design and Manufacturing (New York; London: Spon Press, 2003), pp. 3 - 28


Parametric design in Architecture [A]s this parametric technology become

more mature and common, parametric design is being pushed to another hill-top of the architectural history. Although parametric design itself is very similar to that of conventional design in terms of the fact that both are a process of constantly decoding design problems, finding and amending design possibilities and then ends with a negotiated design solution. However, comparatively parametric modeling makes this design process, which requires a high level of rational management, more explicit, rapid and user-friendly. To put it into a simple explanation of what parametric design is, the idea of an ‘equation’ achieves the purpose. If a parametric design is to be translated into an equation, where the designer writes all the items and mathematical notations as well as the outcomes, symbolizing all the elements, their composition and the design outcomes in real life, then what differ from parametric design to the conventional one is the relationship between all the elements in this equation. In this example of the equation, all the items and notation are interrelated, that one change in each of items or notations can cause correlated action of the other element and thus the whole equation. Parametric modeling is making these ‘correlated actions’ automatic rather than manually if it was conventional design process. Although to programmers or professional parametric designer, the word ‘automatic’ comes out too straightforward and simple as it involves far more unseen processes such as complex calculations and algorithms, but for most of us who are unprofessional, parametric design or modeling offers a user-friendly working 1. Woodbury, Robert (2010). Elements of Parametric Design (London: Routledge) pp. 7-48

space, one that can help encouraging deeper understanding about how, in a methodological sense, our design solutions are generated and how easily they can be generated. Robert in his book, Element of Parametric Design1 mentions that in the process of design, parametric modeling retrieves or improves the design skills which we could but didn’t employ due to conventional design process. These skills include conceiving data flow, dividing to conquer, naming, thinking with abstraction, thinking mathematically and thinking algorithmically. Conventional design and design process relies heavily on specialized knowledge, intuition and experiences, the design results would seem too limited. By using parametric design, our design process is easier to understand, to control and become more differentiated and efficient. In our class exercise, the performance of Grasshopper is truly fascinating. Before the use of grasshopper, objects within the space of Rhino are defined with shapes and volumes. In previous design experience with Rhino, if we are to change the form of the object, we need actions such as stretching and scaling them to do so. In this design process, history records about the changes of an object or actions performed are very limited for later reassessments. Thus we often encounter an awkward situation where we happen to change our mind, and desire to change the grid size of which an already in place 3D paneled structure is based, and then we find out that we need rework everything to make a small change. Reworking is always timeconsuming and the tested results aren’t always guaranteed. However, with Grasshopper, this issue


Conventional Modelling process

Paramatric Modelling process

is improved by a great extent. The power of parametric modeling allows me to only change the value of the specific ‘box’ or parameter that controls grid size, so it automatically affects the information flow through the entire graph, in order to change my 3D panels. This happens algorithmically, rapidly and free from reworking. However, the power of parametric design isn’t the algorithm which does the job automatically for designer; but rather, the amazement of it is that we can control this algorithmic process to gain control of the design outcomes. The International Terminal at Waterloo Station London2 is a good example to explain this. In this project, the designer Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners design parametrically a roof which consists of a series of ‘dimensionally different but identically configured’ arches. The geometry of the arches and the structure were defined by mathematical equation, which entails that the change in geometry of arches is according the change of its span. Thus each arch is changed based on a pattern or the ‘rate of change’ that makes the whole form more organic 2. Kolarevic, Branko, Architecture in the Digital Age: Design and Manufacturing (New York; London: Spon Press, 2003), pp. 3 - 28

change that makes the whole form more organic and smooth. In here, the idea of ‘rate of change’ introduced in the project is very much like the roofs in the church project of Greg Lynn, as mentioned previously. Both of the projects, through the help of parametric modeling, are able to control algorithm processing of its design and thus give their controllable architectural space with more continuity and dynamics.

Roof section of International Terminal at Waterloo Station London


What does it mean for our project?

All above are to show the power of technology, and it ability to help us to do so much. It opens up the possibilities unthinkable in conventional world of architecture. As long as we are able to free our imagination in the design process, with the assistance of digital computation such as parametric design, we can create architectures that are very promising now and in the future. The project of ‘Western Gateway’ in Wyndham City requires intense computational means to accomplish its set goals. In the purpose of upgrading the condition and aesthetics of its streetscapes, parametric tools are needed in the process of design the gateway installation. Seeing that the project trying to follows on the form the success of ‘Seeds of change’ installation at Princess Freeway, which the design is inspired by the nature, I do see the starting point of my design of the proposal—biomimicry. This means we can learn from the nature, its models, systems, systems, processes and element to free our creativity and take inspirations. With biomimicry being my potential starting point, I do need to keep my design abstract, inspirational and dynamic to its users, probably mostly drivers. To achieve these qualities in my design I need the help of Grasshopper and Rhino. These design tools also help me to perfects the complex forms or surface, and entails construction methods so the design become makeable and visually appealing.

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