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ENVOLVE Alexander O.D. Lorimer

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ENVOLVE Alexander O.D. Lorimer Towards an Optimised Architecture, According to Everyone who Lives in it. With digital technologies progressively facilitating active content creation over passive content consumption and artificial intelligences surpassing the human aptitude for complex problems, the role of a professional architect is becoming increasingly challenged. The power of the internet engagement economy has now been realised and the emergence of collective intelligence demands for a reconfiguration of the idea of architectural authorship. This text examines the effects of swiftly advancing technology on the practice of participatory design and design optimisation. Taking a necessary interdisciplinary approach with empirical evidence to support new ideas and social history to identify key trends, the significance of emerging digital technologies will be explored in their tendency and capacity to revolutionise collaborative practice. After considering the work of significant theorists and architects, such as Michael Speaks, describing the value of ‘design intelligence’ generated through autonomous feedback loops, and Michael Kohn, exploring the practical possibilities of virtual crowdsourcing and ‘in context’ communication, the need for a system of decentralised decision making will be suggested (one which also balances the many complex trade-offs inherent in the process of design). Looking still to digital technologies and the value of algorithmic intelligence in solving hugely complex problems (those involving large search spaces), a method for combining the powers of collective human intelligence and artificial intelligence will be proposed to facilitate the emergence of truly optimised and democratic designs. All of this work will culminate in the production of a pixel manipulation program, built around an interactive genetic algorithm, which could be used to co-ordinate input from a potentially unlimited number of people into a single and coherent piece of ‘ourtwork’ (a work of art evolved to satisfy the aesthetical preferences of all the collaborators involved). Designed by Alexander O.D. Lorimer, it is intended that this program will demonstrate how better we could use the technologies of today to facilitate optimised, participatory design. It may also suggest how in the near future this idea could have the capacity to transform the architectural or design professional into an irreversible vestige, by actively engaging and co-ordinating an entire population in the creation of their own world.

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Introduction ‘Here are no privileged points of view, and all available perspectives are equally valid and rich in potential’1 wrote Umberto Eco in ‘The Poetics of the Open Work’, 1962. He was referring to works of art being open to innumerable interpretations, or left intentionally ambiguous so as to enhance this quality; though the notion of ‘the open work’ or ‘works in movement’ was still firmly rooted in the idea of an essential essence imparted by the entitled author from which no explanation could greatly deviate. While such a privileged position seems perfectly reasonable for a work of art, a transcendent object usually removed from life, is such a situation suitable for an architecture, which undoubtedly incorporates life not merely as spectators to be entertained but as relentless participants? The understanding of the essential subjectivity of experience,2 flawed3 but unique to all of us and never completely shared,4 should have as important a ramification for the designers of our architectural spaces as it does for the inhabitants. We all fall equally into the latter category, but with the former we find the power to mould our environments with greater permanence is largely a centralised privilege. Consequently in the latter half of the 20th century ideas concerning freedom and open participation in the shaping of our environments emerged under the term non-plan. Discussed in the first chapter of this essay, the concept remains only an alternative to the far more pervasive practice of architectural dictatorship. However the following chapters will consider the impact that swiftly advancing digital technologies are having on such a practice by facilitating large scale collaboration, before exploring predominant objections to participatory design. The second section of this essay will then focus on constructing a solution, to address such objections and further challenge the presence of architectural hegemony. Using the powers of collective intelligence and computation this solution aspires to close the gap on the shortcomings of the ‘non-plan’ initiative, those relating to self-serving behaviour and lack of co-ordination in large numbers. Therefore the focus of this essay is that of participatory design and design optimisation; or more precisely how an architecture may be better optimised to deal with the complex needs of a large population by finding a more appropriate means of involving that population in the design process. We have learnt much in the last century about the origins of intelligence and complex 1  Eco, U. ‘The Poetics of the Open Work’ in Cancogni, A. (trans.), The Open Work, USA, the Presedent and Fellows of Harvard College, 1989. p.15 2  Robinson, S. ‘Do You See What I See’, Horizon, British Broadcasting Corporation, 2011, Documentary 3  Austin, N. ‘Is Seeing Believing’, Horizon, British Broadcasting Corporation, 2010-2011, Documentary 4  Goodman, N. Ways of Worldmaking, USA, Indiana, Hackett Publishing Company, 1978 ENVOLVE: Alexander O.D. Lorimer


systems, and such revolutionary new knowledge may be used to suggest a radical mode of advancement. For architecture this could mean optimised environments, on all specified levels, that go far beyond the creative capacity of any individual.

The Emergence of [Our]chitecture On from Non-Plan The word ‘Ourchitecture’ may be understood as an architecture born of a decentralised collective effort, free of an overbearing plan imposed by a centralised few. Planning permission however, seems to be a fated aspect of any hierarchical society; it is understood that those few who have a view of the bigger picture are better able to make critical judgements concerning the wider implications of any architectural project, beyond the isolated opinions and wants of the individuals of a large population.5 Significant capital investment is a pre-requisite for the projects that may materialise, which narrows the possibilities towards corporate architecture and government or developer housing schemes brought about through collaboration between those who are often not representative of the end user. In the late 1960’s the idea of ‘non-plan’ arose in part as an attempt to dethrone the centralised planning establishment if not much to propose a rigorous solution.6 It placed faith in the individual and community to guide their own developments and since then there have been many isolated attempts to put this concept into practice. Peter Barker’s opening essay in the book ‘Non-Plan’, a catalogue of 20th century essays concerning open participation, suggests that the idea never fully disappeared and has resurfaced, as “We are once again surrounded by people who think that planning is the answer to everything and who believe that they alone know the way we should all live.”7 Europe’s largest self-build project in Almere, Holland, is a relatively successful example with 720 plots available for people to design and build their own homes. This experiment resulted in the emergence of low-cost housing, and substantial freedom offered to each home builder with the opportunity to express their own personality.8 However such projects are also characterised by low-density spaces, and juxtaposed building forms on predefined plots, not adequately addressing how various people might solve disputes when needing to work together on communal buildings and spaces. As such these projects also fail to address the corporate architecture that is imposed on the city and on the workers who spend a 5  6  7  8 

Planning Portal, [Online] http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/planning/ [25th January 2013] Hughes, J. Sadler, S. Non-Plan, USA, Oxford, Elsevier ltd. 2000, IX Barker, P. ‘Thinking the Unthinkable’, in Non-Plan ed. Hughes, J. Sadler, S. USA, Oxford, Elsevier ltd. 2000, p.6 Dyckhoff, T. (Presenter) ‘The Secret Life of Buildings’, Channel 4, 2011, Channel 4, episode 1 5


Lorimer, A. Deloitte HQ, London, 2012

Lorimer, A. Juxtaposed Building Forms, Almere, 2012


significant portion of their lives there. We live in a world of rapidly growing populations,9 and a clear tendency towards increased urbanisation.10 A low-density, reductionist solution cannot make a significant enough impact to foster any permanent change in the way our world is made. These initiatives have their clear disadvantages and limitations, yet so too does the dominant establishment that first provoked a desire for an alternative. Is it even possible for one, or several minds, to ever fully address the complex problems posed by needing to consider the environmental, infrastructural, economic, and structural implications of a building? All of which demand a complex relationship of trade-offs, while not becoming “insufficiently flexible to deal with the myriad needs and desires of a large population”.11 The inadequacy of architects and planners to sufficiently meet these requirements12 is sometimes overlooked, perhaps because of a lack of insight into how this centralised system of design could realistically be improved. Forgetting that we live in a world where energy is consumed much faster than we can sustainably harvest, where transport networks are not as efficient as they could be13, and where superfluous structural forms don’t adequately conserve materials; most people inhabit countless spaces each day that do not even provide reasonable levels of aesthetic quality or experiential enjoyment. Even prestigious award winning architecture, viewed from the outside, such as Deloitte’s central London HQ, can have a multitude of problems in terms of how the inhabitants respond to the internal environment including low staff morale and decreased productivity.14 Psychologist, Dr. Craig Knight, attributed this to an emphasis on clean, ‘lean’ spaces within the building. He says that in these circumstances, “You’ll find that people will feel less at home, less psychologically comfortable, and if they are less psychologically comfortably they will almost certainly be less productive.”15

9  Leisinger, K. M. Schmitt, K. M. Pandya-Lorch, R. Six billion and counting: Population Growth and Food Security in the 21st Century, International Food Policy Research Institute, USA, 2002 10  Du Satouy, M. ‘The Code’, British Broadcasting Corporation, 2011, Documentary 11  Franks, B. ‘New Right/New Left’ in Non-Plan ed. Hughes, J. Sadler, S. USA, Oxford, Elsevier ltd. 2000, p.33 12  Dyckhoff, T. (Presenter) ‘The Secret Life of Buildings’, Channel 4, 2011, Channel 4, Episode 1,2,3 13  Marks, P. ‘Designing Highways the Slime Mould Way’, The New Scientist, Issue 2742, 09 January 2010 14  Dyckhoff, T. (Presenter) ‘The Secret Life of Buildings’, Channel 4, 2011, Channel 4 15 Ibid. 7


Certainly when we consider the differences in the way people interpret information and aspire to personal goals16 we may begin to appreciate that any architectural project led by an individual, or group not representative of the end user, is likely fated to inadequacy from the outset. Many of the subtleties or even the overall concept built into an architecture may be lost on the majority or even all of the people who are intended to use it; too often than not architectural spaces are dictated to a population. Undoubtedly this seems a difficult problem to solve, particularly considering that each and every stakeholder is rarely known at the design stage. As acknowledged by Jonathan Hill, “shifting the terms of authorship of architectural design can be effective at the time of construction. But it does not necessarily increase the likelihood of a building or space being responsive to future users.”17 Buildings may, and often do, outlive the original user group, and many buildings are experienced only briefly by an unpredictable multitude of people18. But with this understanding perhaps it is essential that the inclusion of design input extends beyond the obvious stakeholders and into the wider world, at least in the latter circumstance. ‘The Grey Hall’, Copenhagen, built in 1891, is an example of a building that has outlived its original function, but far from stagnating the building is constantly being reinterpreted and reinvented within a new social context. Future participants are able to enter into an open and creative dialogue through the use of graffiti. Participation is not limited to the “oriented insertion into something which always remains the world intended by the author”19 since the façade is continually shifting, along with its creative frame of reference. Nonetheless, here there is little co-ordination between participants, and such a system is unfortunately open to abuse, through the potential over representation of a single individual. There are independent charities however, such as The Glass House, which help co-ordinate participation, running workshops which simplify processes behind spatial design so that anybody may be empowered to have a say in the architectural decisions that take place around them.20 Plasticine and paper cut-outs are used as modes of communication, with communal discussions helping to address common objectives but also to balance conflicting ideas.

16  Goodman, N. Ways of Worldmaking, USA, Indiana, Hackett Publishing Company, 1978, p.14 17  Hill, J. Actions of Architecture, Routledge, 2003, p.62 18  Ibid. p.28 19  Eco, U. ‘The Poetics of the Open Work’ in Cancogni, A. (trans.), The Open Work, USA, the Presedent and Fellows of Harvard College, 1989, p.36 20  The Glass-House Community Led Design, [Online] http://www.theglasshouse.org.uk/ [14th November 2012] ENVOLVE: Alexander O.D. Lorimer


Lorimer, A. Ephe[mural], The Grey Hall, Copenhagen, 2012

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However progress in such instances can often be slow and if such a practice is to truly revolutionise architectural design new methods for coordinating inputs should be devised21; methods that can speedily resolve conflicts and effectively balance the numerous considerations which are fundamental to the effective design of an architectural space. We have in fact already entered into an age where large-scale communication and collaboration has been made increasingly easy22. Telecommunication technology underpins our modern world, and the next chapter will outline how the power of digital technology and computation is beginning to enrich the ways in which we work together to shape the world we all share.

The Emergence of [Our]chitecture Computation and Collaboration From the invention of the integrated circuit in 1958 Moore’s Law describes an exponential growth in computer power, or more precisely the number of transistors that can be squeezed onto a single integrated circuit.23 This observation has held true for more than half a century, and along with the multitude of ways in which the powers of computation have revolutionised our modern world, it has given us unprecedented new modes of collaboration and communication. “Architecture has been comparatively slow to understand the full potential of telecommunications. The first few wavelets of change, however, are starting to crash against the shore of conventional architectural practice.”24 Michael Kohn, architect, founding director of Slider Studio and CEO of ‘StickyWorld’, is notable for his work on ‘in context’ communication and architectural ‘crowdsourcing’ (a term coined by technology journalist Jeff Howe, 200625). StickyWorld is a 2010 web start-up in which people are invited to place virtual sticky notes on top of a range of digital content, from architectural plans and reports to photographs and panoramic tours, allowing them to ask questions, share perspectives and feed collaborative insight into relevant projects26. The power of the internet engagement economy is only just beginning to be realised in the field of architecture and design, but it has already been adopted in other fields with one very 21  Bar-Yam, Y. Faratin, P. Klein, M. Sayama, H. The Dynamics of Collaborative Design: Insights From Complex Systems and Negotiation Research, NECI, 2006 22  McGonigal, J. Reality is Broken, London, Vintage 2012 23  Moore, G.E. ‘Cramming More Components onto Integrated Circuits’, Electronics, Volume 38, Number 8, 1965 24  Hight, C. Perry, C. Collective Intelligence in Design, Vol 76, No 5, 2006, p.4 25  Howe, J. Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business, New York, Crown Business, 2008, p.4-17 26  SliderStudio, [Online] http://www.sliderstudio.co.uk/tools/stickyworld/ [14th November 2012] ENVOLVE: Alexander O.D. Lorimer


successful project being ‘Folding@home’ for the PlayStation 3, launched in 200727. Not only does this initiative outsource computer power, connecting the computers of subscribers via the internet into one giant supercomputer, but it also harnesses the real brain power of gamers. “Players learn how to fold proteins by working on ‘solved’ puzzles, or proteins that scientists already know how to fold. Once they’ve got the hang of it, they’re encouraged to try to predict the shape of a protein that scientists haven’t successfully folded yet, or to design a new protein shape from scratch, which researchers could then manufacture in a lab.”28 In ten tasks gamers beat the world’s most sophisticated protein-folding algorithms29, proving that mass human intuition taking radical creative risks, collectively, truly can contend with powerful supercomputers as well as the intellect of professional scientists. Projects such as StickyWorld and Folding@home reveal a trend towards open source information sharing the scale and convenience of which would not have been possible just decades ago. Famous examples such a YouTube and Wikipedia reveal how content creation or ‘prosumption’30 has become easier than ever, liberating the world from mere content consumption and demonstrating a clear collective desire to contribute. In 2008 New York University professor and Internet researcher Clay Shirky tried to work out how much human effort had gone into Wikipedia since its creation in 2001. “Every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in – that represents something like the accumulation of 100 million hours of human thought.... It’s a back-of-the- envelope calculation, but it’s the right order of magnitude”31 Jane McGonigal in her book ‘Reality Is Broken’ gives an analogy to this figure, “It’s like persuading ten thousand people to dedicate five full-time years to the Wikipedia project. That’s a lot of effort to ask a lot of people to make, for no extrinsic reward, on behalf of someone else’s vision.”32 Clearly the internet provides an invaluable platform for scaled-up collaboration. The potential to facilitate ‘in context’ communication, with StickyWorld and the many online games that allow for the collaborative creation of virtual worlds, is another powerful attribute 27  Folding@home, [Online] http://folding.stanford.edu/English/HomePage [14th November 2012] 28  McGonigal, J. Reality is Broken, London, Vintage 2012, p.241 29 Ibid. 30  Tapscott, D. & Williams, A.D. Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World, Atlantic Books 2010 31  Shirky, C. “Gin, Television, and Social Surplus.” [Online] http://www.shirky.com/herecomeseverybody/2008/04/ looking-for-the- mouse.html [2008] 32  McGonigal, J. Reality is Broken, London, Vintage 2012 11


of modern day digital technologies. However if large scale collaboration will ever become a dominant mode of progression for architectural design perhaps a better method should be devised for combining the efforts of the many into a single coherent product. Maybe decentralised decision making where all available perspectives have equal validity and creative potential, would be preferable to systems of centralised decision making based on outsourced input, such as StickyWorld, which would inevitably act to partially mute the resistance of a large population to individual biases. Of course objections do exist, and the idea of large scale collaboration in architectural design is not unanimously popular, with questions remaining as to its limitations and disadvantages. Such problems will need to be addressed if decentralised design is to be successful, as discussed in the following chapter.

The Emergence of [Our]chitecture Hierarchy or Anarchy In a recent Channel 4 documentary award winning landscape architect Martha Schwartz described her understanding of her duty as an architect, proclaiming “It’s impossible to come out with anything of excellence if you have, like, a hundred people holding onto the same pencil trying to draw out a design. You know, the artists and designers, those are the experts. Just because everybody has an opinion does not mean that their opinion is a good or an informed opinion.”33 Much like Markus Meissen’s message in “The Nightmare of Participation”34, the architect is seen as someone who, though in conflict with the democratic consensus, is able to uplift and enrich precisely because of their imposition. It’s interesting to note that in the very same program three designs for transforming run-down spaces in Castleford, West Yorkshire, were compared; with one having been produced by Schwartz, representing a one-million-pound design that was imposed upon the locals. Another represented a more democratic architectural approach, and the third space had been designed without a professional architect but by the local people who inherently understood the needs, wants and undertones of the community, with obvious ‘informed opinions’. It should be unsurprising that not only was Schwartz’s design met with displeasure by those 33  McCloud, K. ‘Kevin McCloud and the Big Town Plan’, Channel 4, 2011, Documentary, Episode 2, 13:50:00 34  Meissen, M. The Nightmare of Participation, Sternberg Press, 2011


StickyWorld Screenshot, http://www.sliderstudio.co.uk/, [19th February 2013]

Folding@home Screenshot, http://folding.stanford. edu/English/FAQ-PS3, [19th February 2013]

imagine1day, Collective Colour Chaos, 2009, image1day.org

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who were supposed to enjoy it, but the park failed to be maintained and just two years later was overgrown and littered. By contrast the community led design continued to be maintained, looked after and enjoyed with a strong sense of ownership.35 Schwartz is, perhaps, a wonderful artist; but does such an artist produce work specifically tailored to satisfy a target population who is to enjoy the piece, void of any personal bias or imposed style? Or does such an artist primarily seek to express themselves, or a certain concept, intuitively, bending toward a personal style, while spectators are there to interpret rather than to inform? It should be clear that architecture demands more. In Roland Barthes’ influential 1967 essay, ‘The Death of the Author’, he argues that the essential meaning of a literary work lies with the interpretations of the reader, rather than the inclinations of the writer; “The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination.”36 The same is true of architecture, as philosopher Nelson Goodman has suggested, worlds are interpreted very differently.37 However surely a creative work could be enriched, if a piece’s ‘unity’ lies in the interpretive population collectively freed from limited individual interpretation, then by crowdsourcing this insight at the creative stage the author’s limits would no longer apply. ‘The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author’38 perhaps could be taken more literally. Of course Schwartz had a point, if one-hundred people truly could grasp at the same pencil, the result would likely be a less than ideal mess, more so than her overgrown park. Art projects such as ‘Collective, Colour, Chaos’39 are examples where the design process is completely decentralised, and the result – well the name says it all; an appealing work of art to some, but an architecture surely requires more consideration and also bears more responsibility40. There are clear disadvantages with hierarchies in design, where professional architects, planners and wealthy clients reside at the top while serious input from the end user is muted; but if you take this structure away is the only alternative anarchy? Can there ever be a decentralised system of design which produces coherency as well as optimum solutions? Undoubtedly; just take a moment to consider the force behind our own origins. – Evolution. 35  36  37  38  39  40 

McCloud, K. ‘Kevin McCloud and the Big Town Plan’, Channel 4, 2011, Documentary, Episode 2 Barthes, R. The Death of the Author, Routledge 2003, p.63 Goodman, N. Ways of Worldmaking, USA, Indiana, Hackett Publishing Company, 1978 Barthes, R. The Death of the Author, Routledge 2003, p.63 Imagine1day, [online] http://www.imagine1day.org/kitsilano-community-art-project [24 October 12] Unwin, S. Analysing Architecture, Routledge, 2009, p.31

ENVOLVE: Alexander O.D. Lorimer


The Evolution Solution Artificial Intelligence Evolution is a prime example of decentralised design, involving many different agents and inputs, and the way that it mindlessly refines and enriches complex systems is one of the most intriguing ideas of modern science. The problem is that it operates over a colossal timescale. However modern technology is changing this, and with the powers of computation we now have the ability to do something truly incredible, to simulate evolution in a virtual environment. We can accelerate it, with the possibility of recreating its products in the real world, using what is known as an evolutionary or genetic algorithm. Stanford Kwinter in his book ‘Far From Equilibrium’, an account of technological and culture change, acknowledges the significance of this power - “The late twentieth century may be known as the dawn of the age of the algorithm.”41 Interesting examples with a direct architectural application include Joris Laarman’s bone chair42, designed within an autonomous computer simulation. The weight and stresses that the chair should tolerate were first manually programmed into the simulation, which was then left to evolve. Using a genetic algorithm the simulation autonomously refined the form of the chair through successive generations, resulting in a highly efficient ‘organic’ structure that uses a minimum of material to support its load. “In a sense evolutionary simulations replace design, since artists can use this software to breed new forms rather than specifically design them.”43 This is evolution, but also what is constitutes is no less than a form of artificial intelligence designing a chair to suit specific needs better than any anthropological intelligence, and far from being a disadvantage the ‘profligate prototyping’44 mechanism behind the algorithm represents the real creative power of evolution. With the processing speed of computers the random and mindless fashion in which the genetic algorithm explores its ‘search space’ feasibly facilitates the emergence of true innovation and ‘value added’.

41  Kwinter, S. ‘Leap in the void: a New organon’ in Far From Equilibrium, New York, Actar, 2008 42  Marcus, F. ‘Joris Laarman Works with Opel’, Dezeen Magazine, December 2006 43  DeLanda, M. ‘Deleuze and the Use of Genetic Algorithms in Architecture’, in Designing for a Digital World ed. Leach, N. Wiley Academy, 2002, pp. 117-120 44  Frazer, J. An Evolutionary Architecture, London, Architectural Association, p.12 15


Michael Speaks is a key figure for discussion, promulgating the idea of ‘design intelligence’ as the source of real innovation, originality and of ‘value added’. In his essay ‘Design Intelligence’45 he draws a picture of the 21st Century plagued with uncertainty and instability, where critical philosophy and theory no longer function adequately46. He advocates ‘intelligent’ problem solving techniques over dialectical, intellectualised critique as a means of advancement, discussing prototypes that are not representative of specific points along the design process but themselves become active design engines, creating feedback loops that drive the innovation process. A genetic algorithm simulation is a prime example where the virtual prototype reacts with the simulation environment, the results of which feed back into the simulation to inform the next generation. Through this process the algorithms relentlessly probe their simulation environment, which may be described in its relationship to potential prototypes by a fitness landscape where higher peaks represent more optimised solutions and distance across the landscape describes greater variation in prototype characteristics. The potential to facilitate decentralised participatory design should be clear. This fitness landscape can be shaped by requirements as definitive as structural integrity, and, though more difficult to implement, it may certainly be moulded by criteria as intangible as human appreciation.

45  Speaks, M. ‘Design Intelligence’ in Constructing a New Agenda: Architectural Theory, ed. Sykes, K. New York, Princeton Architectural Press, 2010, p.204 46 Ibid. ENVOLVE: Alexander O.D. Lorimer


Lorimer, A. Drawing of Joris Laarman’s Bone Chair, 2012

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The Evolution Solution Decentralised Design It will be useful here to consider that Dawkins did it. In his book, ‘The Blind Watchmaker’47, Richard Dawkins introduces the reader to an interactive genetic algorithm that he has programmed. The user chooses from a series of ‘biomorphs’ (shapes made up of branching lines) bringing their characteristics forward to the next generation which is made up of a population bred from the chosen ‘biomorphs’. Through this continuous process, cumulative selection over multiple generations, the ‘biomorphs’ begin to resemble shapes that the user may be intending to evolve, and while this process is led by an individual a fitness landscape is still formed that involves many separate inputs. This process may be laborious for a single person but if opened up to a large population, with the networking capabilities of the internet, interesting and attractive forms could be evolved with the fitness values representing countless people’s aesthetical preferences. Crucially each individual would need to enter the process with an open mind as to the eventual outcome, and although these collaborators would be in isolation of each other the genetic algorithm would explore a single fitness landscape. It would balance all of the inputs and find a highly optimised form to satisfy the collective users’ preferences, and perhaps above the algorithms capacity to uncover originality and innovation48, is its potential to facilitate ‘collective intelligence’. This term describes the emergence of highly effective problem solving capabilities that, given certain parameters, may flourish amidst a large group of individuals.49 For example, in Marcus Du Sautoy’s documentary ‘The Code’, 160 people were given the chance, individually, to guess the number of jelly beans in a large container. Guesses ranged from between 400 and 50,000 but what Du Sautoy did next was to take the average in order to come to one collective guess; 4,514.9, amazingly just 0.1% away from the real number of jelly beans, 4510. Du Sautoy says, “As individuals the guesses are just that, guesses, but when you take them collectively they become something else entirely”50 Crucially if all 160 people had been informed to collaborate in producing a single answer, the result would have been far less impressive. The power of collective intelligence comes 47  Dawkins, R. The Blind Watchmaker, Penguin Books, new ed edition 2006 48  Goldberg, D. The Design of Innovation (Genetic Algorithms and Evolutionary Compution), Springer, 2002, p.54 49  Du Satouy, M. (Presenter) ‘The Code’, British Broadcasting Corporation, 2011, Documentary, Episode 3, 00:47:40 50 Ibid. ENVOLVE: Alexander O.D. Lorimer


Biomorph Breeder; a version programmed by Anna Nardella, http://www.annanardella.it/biomorph.html, [19th February 2013]

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from its resistance to centralised biases. With guesses taken individually, any extreme overestimation is likely to be cancelled out by an extreme underestimation; whereas with an actively collaborating group of people, such as a team of architects, planners and engineers, biases from individuals are allowed to develop as conformity takes place.51 In the case of decentralised design each participant would be free to exercise their individual judgment, un-muted and un-distorted, and the products would be informed by a fitness landscape where every individual has equal prominence providing a resistance to centralised biases. With the networking potential of the internet such a project deserves thorough experimentation. “This seems a far cry from a design process where one can develop a unique style”52 wrote Manuel DeLanda in his essay ‘Deleuze and the Use of the Genetic Algorithm in Architecture’. However perhaps the emphasis should not be upon the implications for the single designer in asserting their personality upon a project, but upon the many individuals who may now be invited into an open process with a creative potential the results of which could not be preconceived by any single party. Genetic algorithms and other modes of artificial intelligence offer the chance to enter a future that traverses the bounds of our subjective limits53, those described by Goodman54. Evolution has no invention without cause and no refinement without necessity, and certainly this technique is not limited to stick figures but any conceivable form that may be represented within a computer simulation. For example, ‘Abstract Art’ is the name of a program developed by Alexander O.D. Lorimer and Stephen N. Morris in 2012. It is a prototype that interacts with a single user, through the repetitive cycling of an interactive genetic algorithm. The program generates images out of randomly produced pixels and then displays them to the user who assigns each image a value out of ten. A new generation of images is then created from the most highly rated images of the previous generation. The idea is that as this evolutionary process continues the images would begin to develop distinct favourable qualities. As predicted this process was slow, and while faint shapes began to emerge out of the chaos concentrated areas of a specific colour could not easily be produced. Each pixel, and therefore each random variation, was too small for the eye to easily distinguish differences in colour hindering the process of selection. 51  Surowiecki, J. The Wisdom of Crowds, First Anchor Books Edition, 2005, p.40 52  DeLanda, M. ‘Deleuze and the Use of Genetic Algorithms in Architecture’, in Designing for a Digital World ed. Leach, N. Wiley Academy, 2002, pp. 117-120 53  Du Sautoy, M. [Presenter] ‘The Hunt for AI’, British Broadcasting Company, 2012, Documentary 54  Goodman, N. Ways of Worldmaking, USA, Indiana, Hackett Publishing Company, 1978 ENVOLVE: Alexander O.D. Lorimer


Ourtizanz, Generation 10

Ourtizanz, Generation 5 Lorimer, A, Ourtizanz Sunset – Early Generations, 2013

Ourtizanz, Generation 1

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‘Ourtizanz’ is the name of a later prototype designed by Lorimer. The multi- user ‘Ourtizanz System’55 has been produced to evolve images according to the aesthetical preferences of its collective intelligence, and is used here to suggest a method for testing the theory of decentralised design. Each generation is made up of a population of 120 images (early generations are composed of discernibly large pixels or blocks of colour, which are divided into smaller blocks of colour in later generations in order to evolve greater detail). While the program has not yet been opened up to a collective intelligence a single user interacting with the program, with the intention of evolving an appealing sunset image, can see significant progress after just ten generations. However requiring over six hours of interaction with that individual, the speed of progress is impractical. It is with a collective intelligence that this process becomes viable. With a group of only 120 participants, few when considering the facilitatory potential of the internet, ten generations could be completed within a mere three minutes. With such potential the ‘Ouritzanz system’ requires further experimentation and development. “The role of design has now been transformed into (some would say degraded down to) the equivalent of a prize-dog or a race-horse breeder.”56 Wrote DeLanda, however the focus is on the designer, the single designer, and DeLanda eludes the possibility of decentralised participation. This process is about more than selective breeding and optimisation, but about democracy and decentralisation in design, empowering and liberating the content consumers. It is of course acknowledged that the Ourtizanz program only addresses aesthetical considerations, however it could easily be manipulated to limit the number of, say, blue pixels within an image as a separate fitness function alongside the collective intelligence function. The users would then seek to find the most attractive image but the algorithm would balance this against the need to have a minimal quantity of blue. In other circumstances, with more advanced programs, this ‘blue function’ could represented material efficiency or structural integrity of a three- dimensional object, or even thermal stability of an interior space. A string of many different fitness functions could be factored in to the evolution of a virtual world or virtual objects that may later be materialised. An architecture produced in such a way would not be bound by the imagination of only several minds, and would not be conceptually imprisoned by the confines of a sheet of paper. It would be alive, in a fluid, fully represented and communicated existence from the 55  Patent Pending (Lorimer, A. GB1220256.0 - 10/11/12) 56  DeLanda, M. ‘Deleuze and the Use of Genetic Algorithms in Architecture’, in Designing for a Digital World ed. Leach, N. Wiley Academy, 2002, pp. 117-120 ENVOLVE: Alexander O.D. Lorimer


earliest of design stages. “Most architectural drawings offer only a limited understanding of use. Their primary purpose is to describe an object and as they refer to only certain aspects of the physical world, they limit the types of object architects usually design.”57 There are, of course, aspects to architecture that would be more difficult to define within a computer program. For instance in Foucault’s writing he suggest that the experience of a building is dependent on the way it is inhabited and managed as well as how it is designed in terms of form and space58. As Bernard Tschumi has famously written, “Architecture is defined by the actions it witnesses as much as by the enclosure of its walls.”59 It would be deterministic to suggest that such elements could realistically be predefined. Jeremy Till in Architecture Depends60 and Jonathan Hill in Actions of Architecture make appealing arguments for this case. ‘How can the architect propose a design strategy that refers to use without being deterministic?’61 However in the instance of decentralised, evolutionary design the user in their inhabitation and experience of space would become the very driving force behind the design process. Their actions and behaviours, undoubtedly unpredictable, would form part of the architecture throughout its conception. Contingency, though never completely fulfilled62, would surely be better accommodated by this process. Crucially the only limit to the involvement of the collective intelligence in the activities of the algorithm is the computer’s capacity to display the desired object with a close enough resemblance to how it would realistically be experienced. With an image this is easy, but with an architecture, which inevitably incorporates a flexible temporal dimension and also engages all of the senses63 (as well as interactions with others), there is a need for total immersion in the simulation environment with a higher degree of realism than that afforded by current technology - a simulated reality difficult to distinguish from the real world. Without this the process of selection would be impeded, and there would be a severe limit to the 57  58  59  60  61  62  p.52 63 

Hill, J. Actions of Architecture, Routledge, 2003, p.25 Foucault, M. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison, USA, Second Vintage Books Edition, 1995 Tschumi, B. ‘Architecture and Limmits’, in Architecture and Disjunction, MIT Press, 1996, p.101 Till, J. Architecture Depends, MIT Press, 2009 Hill, J. Actions of Architecture, Routledge, 2003, p.30 Rasch, W. Niklas Luhmann’s Modernity: The Paradoxes of Differentiation, Stanford University Press, 2000, Holl, S. Questions of Perception: Phenomenology of Architecture, William Stout, 2007 23


kind of issues that could be addressed. The required immersion technology would also need to be affordable so as to allow the possibility of involvement by a large population. This however should not be regarded as an absolute preventative factor. Exponential technological growth goes hand-in-hand with rapid affordability64, and huge advancements are already being made with the development of immersive gaming environments.65 Also the technology already exits whereby users would no longer need to vote to present their preferences, but the information could be recorded directly from their neural activity66 via EEG (electroencephalograph) readings, resulting in more accurate and concise feed-back.67 To quote Dr. Michio Kaku, renowned theoretical physicist; “When you get a birthday card in the mail, you open it up, and there’s a chip in it, and the chip sings happy birthday to you. Well that chip has more computer power than all the allied forces of 1945. Hitler; Eisenhower; Churchill would have killed to get that chip; and what do you do with that chip? – You throw it away in the garbage.”68 If a record of history is anything to go by, the next 70 years may see similar advancements; and this 70 year timeframe would not even be taking into account the effects of accelerating returns; Moore’s law; exponential progression. We are entering into a world where artificial intelligence is quickly surpassing the human in many of his faculties; such design processes will allow preservation of the human element, essential in art and architecture, while opening it up to a population of creative possibilities.

Conclusion Non-plan’ is a liberating concept, but it is not practical, mainly due to our egocentric human nature and the evolutionary inadequacy that makes us relatively inept at contributing to an enriched whole guided by purely individual drives. While ants following individual instincts actually benefit the entire colony69, humans exerting the same effort under the term ‘nonplan’ primarily strive to benefit their own cause, often proving detrimental to the wider system. This effect can be seen in the way that people move through crowds (as opposed to 64  Kurzweil, R. The Singularity is Near, New York, Penguin Group 2006 65  BBC News, E3 Expo: Where Players Loose Themselves in Immersive Games, [online], http://www.bbc.co.uk/ news/technology-13711335, [08/11/12] 66  Dyckhoff, T. (Presenter) ‘The Secret Life of Buildings’, Channel 4, 2011, Channel 4, Episode 1, 00:14:55 67  Cain, M. (Presenter) ‘What Makes a Masterpiece’, Channel 4, 2012, Documentary 68  Kaku, M. Community College Project, ‘The World in 2030’, Lecture,15th December 2009, Queensborough 69  Keller, L. The Lives of Ants, Oxford University Press, 2010, P.159 ENVOLVE: Alexander O.D. Lorimer


Lorimer, A. Apes Taking Shelter, 2011

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ants), ultimately hindering the efficiency of the larger system and in turn themselves70. Interestingly, for almost the entirety of humanity’s evolutionary history we have been a homeless species, not tied down to any one place due to an uncertain future71. Therefore it seems we have never fully developed the instinctual ability to create habitats suited to our individual needs, as well as those of a larger society, while also being economically viable in the long-term. What is needed for humanity is a system that allows collective intelligence to flourish within the context of design. The ‘Ourtizanz System’ is an example of how this could realistically be achieved on a small scale. The products would be pieces of ‘ourtwork’ (but maybe one day ‘ourchitecture’), objectively sculpted by a simple artificial intelligence, informed by a powerful collective intelligence. We may not be quite there with the computational ability of generating and representing a simulated environment with a high enough degree of realism so as to allow the effective evolution of an architecture, but the technology is certainly not far off. The effect that decentralised design may have upon the social and economic elements of architectural design may be questionable, dissolving centralised power but limiting input to the click of a button or an EEG reading. However if the resultant products truly are highly optimised according to given criteria, would this mechanisation of the design process become a necessary trade-off? After all, collective intelligence offers a democratic future for architectural progression and the world will be enriched for it. Each member represents an autonomous agent within a larger system from which a higher intelligence comes to emerge, the products of which could not be pre- conceived by any one individual. Stanford Kwinter, in ‘Far From Equilibrium’, refers to this property as ‘wildness’72—the more scientific term is ‘chaotic’; and it is evolution that generates order out of chaos, as a refined sequence of serendipitous events. Does the future of the architectural field belong to the architectural professionals and planners? Not likely, as ‘Everything is architecture’73 - and we are all architects.

70  Du Satouy, M. (Presenter) ‘The Code’, British Broadcasting Corporation, 2011, Documentary, Episode 3, 00:14:50 71  Attenborough, D. [Presenter] ‘Animal House’, British Broadcasting Company, 2011-2012, Documentary 72  Kwinter, S. ‘Wildness’ in Far From Equilibrium, New York, Actar, 2008 73  Hollein, H. ‘Everything is Architecture’ in Bau, Issue 1/2, Vienna, 1968 ENVOLVE: Alexander O.D. Lorimer


Bibliography Articles Barker, P. ‘Thinking the Unthinkable’, in Non-Plan ed. Hughes, J. Sadler, S. USA, Oxford, Elsevier ltd. 2000, p.6 Bar-Yam, Y. Faratin, P. Klein, M. Sayama, H. The Dynamics of Collaborative Design: Insights From Complex Systems and Negotiation Research, NECI, 2006 DeLanda, M. ‘Deleuze and the Use of Genetic Algorithms in Architecture’, in Designing for a Digital World ed. Leach, N. Wiley Academy, 2002, pp. 117-120 Eco, U. ‘The Poetics of the Open Work’ in Cancogni, A. (trans.), The Open Work, USA, the Presedent and Fellows of Harvard College, 1989. p.15 Franks, B. ‘New Right/New Left’ in Non-Plan ed. Hughes, J. Sadler, S. USA, Oxford, Elsevier ltd. 2000, p.33 Hight, C. Perry, C. Collective Intelligence in Design, Vol 76, No 5, 2006, p.4 Kwinter, S. ‘Wildness’ in Far From Equilibrium, New York, Actar, 2008 Kwinter, S. ‘Leap in the void: a New organon’ in Far From Equilibrium, New York, Actar, 2008 Leisinger, K. M. Schmitt, K. M. Pandya-Lorch, R. Six billion and counting: Population Growth and Food Security in the 21st Century, International Food Policy Research Institute, USA, 2002 Marks, P. ‘Designing Highways the Slime Mould Way’, The New Scientist, Issue 2742, 09 January 2010 Moore, G.E. ‘Cramming More Components onto Integrated Circuits’, Electronics, Volume 38, Number 8, 1965 Marcus, F. ‘Joris Laarman Works with Opel’, Dezeen Magazine, December 2006 Speaks, M. ‘Design Intelligence’ in Constructing a New Agenda: Architectural Theory, ed. Sykes, K. New York, Princeton Architectural Press, 2010, p.204 Tschumi, B. ‘Architecture and Limmits’, in Architecture and Disjunction, MIT Press, 1996

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Books Barthes, R. The Death of the Author, Routledge 2003 Bishop, C. Participation: Documents of Contemporary Art, UK, Whitechapel Art Gallery, 2006 Bloom, H. The Lucifer Principal, a Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History, Atlantic Monthly Press 1997 Dawkins, R. The Blind Watchmaker, Penguin Books, new ed edition 2006 Foucault, M. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison, USA, Second Vintage Books Edition, 1995 Goldberg, D. The Design of Innovation (Genetic Algorithms and Evolutionary Compution), Springer, 2002 Goodman, N. Ways of Worldmaking, USA, Indiana, Hackett Publishing Company, 1978 Hill, J. Actions of Architecture, Routledge, 2003 Hughes, J. Sadler, S. Non-Plan, USA, Oxford, Elsevier ltd. 2000 Howe, J. Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business, New York, Crown Business, 2008 Kwinter, S. Far From Equilibrium, New York, Actar, 2008 McGonigal, J. Reality is Broken, London, Vintage 2012 Meissen, M. The Nightmare of Participation, Sternberg Press, 2011 Passavant, P.A, Dean, J. The Empire’s New Clothes: reading Hardt and Negri, Taylor & Francis Books Inc., 2004 Surowiecki, J. The Wisdom of Crowds, First Anchor Books Edition, 2005 Tapscott, D. & Williams, A.D. Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World, Atlantic Books 2010 Till, J. Architecture Depends, MIT Press, 2009

ENVOLVE: Alexander O.D. Lorimer


Unwin, S. Analysing Architecture, Routledge, 2009, p.31 Documentaries Austin, N. (Producer) ‘Is Seeing Believing’, Horizon, British Broadcasting Corporation, 20102011, Documentary Cain, M. (Presenter) ‘What Makes a Masterpiece’, Channel 4, 2012, Documentary Dyckhoff, T. (Presenter) ‘The Secret Life of Buildings’, Channel 4, 2011, Channel 4, episode 1, 2, 3 Du Satouy, M. (Presenter) ‘The Code’, British Broadcasting Corporation, 2011, Documentary, episode 1, 2, 3 McCloud, K. ‘Kevin McCloud and the Big Town Plan’, Channel 4, 2011, Documentary, Episode 2 Robinson, S. (Producer) ‘Do You See What I See’, Horizon, British Broadcasting Corporation, 2011, Documentary Kaku, M. Community College Project, ‘The World in 2030’, Lecture, 15th December 2009, Queensborough

Online Folding@home, [Online] http://folding.stanford.edu/English/HomePage [14th November 2012] Imagine1day, [online] http://www.imagine1day.org/kitsilano-community-art-project [24 October 12] Planning Portal, [Online] http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/planning/ [25th January 2013] SliderStudio, [Online] http://www.sliderstudio.co.uk/tools/stickyworld/ [14th November 2012] Shirky, C. “Gin, Television, and Social Surplus.” [Online] http://www.shirky.com/herecomeseverybody/2008/04/looking-for-the- mouse.html [2008] The Glass-House Community Led Design, [Online] http://www.theglasshouse.org.uk/ [14th November 2012]

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Profile for Plymouth University School of Architecture

ARCO13 Alex Lorimer  

ENVOLVE Towards an Optimised Architecture, According to Everyone who Lives in it. With digital technologies progressively facilitating act...

ARCO13 Alex Lorimer  

ENVOLVE Towards an Optimised Architecture, According to Everyone who Lives in it. With digital technologies progressively facilitating act...

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