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generative design in fine arts

gustav metzger's nylon and acid artwork

introduction to generative design

Generative design can be defined as design in which the artist (or architect) defines the parameters of the design, but once this is complete, no longer interferes with the design. In this manner the form of the designed object is found in an unexpected manner, without the creator being aware of what it’s going to be. Emphasis has moved from what has historically been labelled as important, the completed form, to the processes that are used to create this form. The processes are of key importance, and the form created is no longer entirely the designers key concern, it is of secondary importance. As Sol LeWitt stated “All of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair.” There are infinite possibilites as to what this final designed object will look like. Generative design is a broad architectural discourse because it encompasses a lot of other architectural discourses, including interactive design and kinetic design. Of specific personal interest is the concept of agentbased design, tracking the paths of organisms and using these to create functions with which to define the design. Generative design shows an increased collaboration between art and science, with a lot of interest in biological functions and organisms. This shows a break from traditional design which concentrates largely on the interaction of design and religion. While generative design is commonly linked to computation, it did exist prior to the use of computers. Computer progams have merely enable higher complexity to the written parameters and hence the objects created. An example of generative design prior to the use of computers is Gustav Metzger’s artwork. He was the founder of ‘auto-destructive’ work in which he creates an object which then proceeds to destory itself in ways that he has not specifically defined. Examples include placing acid on nylon fabric and watching it eat away at the fabric, creating undefined patterns, and allowing fruit to rot, again creating undefined forms and colours. Computational generative design allows for slightly more control over the outcome, and also more complexity.

Generative design, as is common with computational design discourses, has taken a relatively long time to be picked up by the architectural world. Computational programs have been used for a long time in aeronautical science, ship building and other industrial practises before they were adopted by designers. Complex generative design, enabled by these programs, was adopted expansively throughout the fine art and popular culture world. Artists began to believe that computers could produce far more interesting art that humans. This could be due to the fact that they are devoid of our subjectivity and personal taste. Rather they can be programmed to use specific functions to create form, without the designer’s egotistical and restricted choice of final form. Examples of computational generative design in fine art include Paul Brown’s work. He uses a program named Director using pre-computed animation tables. Brown intends to ask the viewer what the concept of personal work means in contexts such as his and Cohen’s AARON (explored later in this journal). Brown states “the ever growing realm popularly referred to as cyberspace is an ecosystem and that creatures must evolve to exploit that space.” Generative design is a manner in which to do this.

paul brown's sandlines


harold cohen'sAARON

Harold Cohen developed a computational program he named AARON as a means to create his artworks. This is an example of generative design in fine arts. Cohen originally came up with the simple rule that as long as colours are of the same brightness, changing the colours made little difference to the outcome of the work, hence brightness is the major contributor in creating aesthetically pleasing colour schemes. AARON then adapted this to create colour schemes for Cohen. The complexity has since increased, but the concept has remained the same-Cohen plugs in rules for AARON, which then produces colour schemes for him. Cohen has stated that the colour schemes AARON has produced are something that he never would have attempted without the assistance of the computer. AARON produces for Cohen thousands of samples through which he eliminates ones that he deems drab or unappealing. This is similar to our Week Four group Grasshopper exercise in which we can manipulate a function to create hundreds of outputs, it is then up to the designers personal judgement as to which are worth retaining. AARON is capable to create works at a significant level of expertise without the experiential knowledge humans have, or the visual system they depend upon. Hence this is an example of how computational design is beneficial to design. It can create highly complex and developed products, without extensive expertise knowledge. Cohen has struggled to define the concept of creativity, and personal ‘ownership’ of works. He has created a program that produces exceptional works of art, without further interference from him. Is his computer therefore creative? He defined the parameters under which these works were produced, however he did not define the final work. Are these works therefore truely ‘his’ designs? This is a recurring theme throughout generative design and subject to a lot of argument.


ernest edmonds

Ernest Edmonds is another example of an artist that employs generative design concepts into his work. He explains how rules are at the heart of his art. His artwork is generated from a set of specified constraints as opposed to step-by-step rules. Hence it is generative because he does not have an image he is working towards, rather the image appears as he works on his constraints. Similar to Cohen he concentrates on computers to generate colours for his work. His original use of computers in art was for his work labelled ‘Nineteen’.He wrote a program with a set of conditions for a visual layout, and the computer then supplied him with the layout. While ‘Nineteen’ did not refer to a computer program at all, it would not have been possible to complete without the layout that the program produced, as specified by Edmond’s inputs. Edmond states “Generative art enables the artist to concentrate on the underlying rules themselves: the surfaces that define the artwork, as against the surface.” While often generative art is considered to have no human manipulation once the rules have been defined, he believes that the intervention of the designer is acceptable. In this manner some aspect of intuitive judgment is employed in the design. Hnece it becomes more of an interactive design. Edmond is an example of the overlap between generative design and interactive design. In his recent work he has added a function which enables the system to pick up noises from the audience and then depending on these, change in a previously defined manner. In this manner he is pushing the boundaries of generative art, and creating overlaps between different architectural discourses, and creating animated, generative works.


generative design in architecture

Generative design practises have also been employed in architecture. Kokkugia is an example of architectural firm that concentrates on generative building forms. Founded by Podborsek, Snooks and Stuart-Smith, the structures enable architectural decoration to become the construction. Scripting is used extensively throughout generative design projects. Scripting is the ability for a user to manipulate a program to suit their needs, allowing for a wider possibility of outcomes in the same amount of time. Using scripting in agent based design for example enables a designer to create a program that contains a set of functions summarising organisms movements. This was used in Kokkugia's project, Swarm Matter. Scripting in this example allowed for a hihgly complex form to be created in a short amount of time, to a level of complexity that would not have been possible without computer programming. Kokkugia's proposal for the Taipei Performing Arts Centre is an example of generative design also with an interest in agent based design. The flow of the Keelung River is defined and becomes the process by which the monolithic base of the auditoriums is eroded. While the flow of the river can be defined, there are infinte outcomes as to how the auditorium is shaped. This project is also an example of optimisation in architectural design because there are also restrictions placed in regards to acoustic requirements as well as form and detail. The roof is defined through agent-based design. The starting geometry of the roof is radically changed through motivation of the agents.

kokkugia, swarm matter

kokkugia, taipei performing arts centre


generative design in architecture

Biothing projects concentrate on the concept of generative or agent based design and realising this through digital technologies. Patterns are found in natural ecosystems, which are then defined via parametric programming to create a new 'intelligent' architecture. New types of structure and organisation are found that are more logical that previous designs. Hence this is another example of the cross over between generative design and optimisation.Programming of molecular transactions also leads to more sustainable design, another example of an architectural discourse.

biothing, pop music centre

biothing, agent-based research

biothing, mesonic fabrics The Pop Music Centre is an example of generative design used to create an architectural structure with both generated structure and sustainability. Brownian motion was defined in a program, eroding the main shells of the structure. Natural ecologies were studied to create nested systems in the ground. In terms of sustainability a set of underwater lights has been installed to encourage the growth of algae to regain the natural marine system as well as enable it to be used for the users of the structure.

biothing, fabware


manipulating grasshopper functions

For this tutorial exercise my group concentrated largely on attractor points and attractor curves and ways in which to manipulate these. As I am concentrating on generative design for this studio this appeared to be the most relevant as it essentially designs rules to define the way objects relate to other objects. While the use of Grasshopper in this course will restrict the extent to which we can create a generative design based project, this is an example of a similar manipulation we can do within the restraints of this program. The outcomes of these experiments are apparent below. Converting outputs to polygons on lofted surface with curve attractor

Single attractor point

Multiple functions surface patterns

Horizontal curve attractor on lofted surface

Multiple attractor points

Multiple functions line patterns

Multiple vertical curve attractors on lofted surface

Multiple attractor points plus boolean operation

Multiple functions lofted surface

Lofting between circle outputs with multiple curve attractors

Multiple attractor points plus voronoi operation

Multiple functions rotate about an axis

Lofting between circle and polygon outputs with multiple curve attractors

Voronoi offset scaled using curve

Arbitrary points on circles


Air Journal Week 4