Tag Archives: design

One of the Questions of Form

Curvilinear or straight…is it a matter of preference? Is it the stylistic will of the architect who imposes their desired form upon society? Why is it that architecture traditionally tends to be manifested in straight lines, rectilinear massing and 90 degree angles? If a curve is introduced, then it is typically an arc, circle, or sphere derived from rudimentary platonic solids. If there is an angle to disrupt the perfect 90 degree box, it is seen as a roof or derived from some quality in the site. Why are windows and doors square, walls vertical, and floor slabs horizontal? Is it a direct consequence of the construction industry, mass producing straight pieces that are later assembled into the buildings of yesterday? Is it performance based following the laws of gravity in terms of vertical loads? Is it because people need flat horizontal surfaces to exist upon? Is it because we are used to seeing buildings in straight and rectilinear arrangements which give us a sense of familiar comfort stemming from cities of the past.

Other industrial realizations of mankind are not restricted to this prescribed ruleset. Taking a look at transportation; cars and boats, are designed for performance and style, being mass produced and continually evolving. Planes and trains are designed for aerodynamics and efficiency. Small objects such as electronics and media devices are sculpted and shaped based on functional and aesthetic requirements, but not restricted to the bulk of assembly found in buildings and construction materials. Why is architecture so far behind in terms of form?

When an interesting architectural proposal is conceived with irregular curvilinear form, or a complex network of smooth surfaces and natural shapes, why is it seen by the layperson as ‘something out of a science fiction movie’? Why is there such resistance to receive architecture that escapes traditional methods of conception and representation?

Taking a look at nature and natural systems, straight lines and box-like forms are no where to be found…except at the horizon, a distant and infinitely unattainable threshold. No matter how far you travel toward the horizon, you will not reach it, until you escape the confines of the planet and see the straight line is really a curve. Does the straight line represent order and man’s dominance over nature? Does it recall the power of an industrially advanced civilization? What about a digitally advanced one? Can form-generation escape a designer’s prescribed realization? Can there be an architecture that conceives its own form? Even with advanced digital methods of generating form, there may be unforeseen outcomes, but there is still the matter of preference and decision. The manifestation is restricted to the logic and constraints of the designer’s will. Even if the object itself is not designed, the code that generates the form is. Ultimately, all formed objects are formed…by a designer. So, is it a matter of preference?…


Machine or Nature

During a period of industrial revolution and mechanization, there remained a thread of discourse that was interested in biological systems. Roughly 100 years ago, modernism was emerging in architecture through implementation of the then current technological innovations. New methods of mass production and new high-strength, light-weight materials were deployed to shape a modern world of tomorrow fitted with the latest conveniences for modern life. Advocates of the movement were inspired by the efficient technology of the machine. Transportation vehicles such as the airplane, automobile, and ocean liner enabled man to travel great distances, which previously took days or weeks on horseback, in a relatively short time. Production and manufacturing had achieved massive efficiency. Science had taken the place of philosophy in terms of logic and thinking. Architect’s searched for ways to build with the same functionality, creating “machines”, as Le Corbusier put it, “for living in.”

We know all too well the history of European modernism that rose from a post-war environment of necessity, and then immigrated to America to first become a symbol of capitalism, then corporate power in the skyscraper, then mutated with classicism for ‘aesthetic’ purposes, and ultimately classified into ‘styles’ referred to as ‘functionalism’, ‘minimalism’, or ‘international style’…etc. It is becoming more and more prevalent and widely used by designers who reject notions of ornamentation and classical architecture, often called ‘traditional’. These are not new ideas, in fact they are quite old, and the canon of ‘modern architecture’, using platonic solids and pure geometrical forms has replaced the renaissance as the ‘traditional’.

Just as the modernists of last century were inspired by the technology of their day, so are the architects of the 21st century. Over the past decade or two, advances in computation and software development has given new tools to designers, resulting in a proliferation of form generation with increasing geometrical complexity. Advances in the fields of robotics, genetic research, and artificial intelligence inspire architects to design and ultimately build with the sophistication of intelligent organisms. Natural systems are researched bringing a bio-mimetic generation to form-giving and architectural design. As early as 1968, computational systems such as the Lindenmayer system (after the Hungarian biologist, Aristid Lindenmayer), were developed to simulate natural growth and branching through a recursive process. Today, computational software enables architects to deploy and manipulate similar logics to building design.

Some may discard this trajectory as unimportant, reacting only to a visual impulse. Many morphological productions and explorations have been classified as ‘blobs’, and regarded to as unbuildable, digital art. The research is still relatively experimental and considered an infant, though manufacturing capabilities are rapidly being developed to realize the designs. CAM techniques using computer numeric controlled (CNC) milling, water or laser cutting is enabling the work to translate from a cyber environment into a physical one. Just as the pioneers of the modern movement made proposals for a new tomorrow, so are many of today’s architects foreseeing a possible world of intelligent cities and -literally- ‘smart growth’ for the next century. Throughout architectural history, advances in world technology as inspired thinkers to imagine other possible worlds. Inspired by the complexity of growth systems and behavioral patterns of mother nature, rather than man-made machines, the ambition of the discipline is placed beyond the existing creations of man, and after the designs of the Master Creator.