Anexact Paths: Computation, Continuity, and Tectonics in the Design Process

Anexact Paths: Computation, Continuity, and Tectonics in the Design Process

Alessio Erioli
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3993-3.ch001
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This chapter attempts to unfold the aspects of a design approach aimed to channel the full potential of complexity-grounded paradigms and self-organization based strategies applied through computation and algorithmic approaches, with a focus on (but not limited to) architecture. Computation is a necessary precondition to the whole discourse, not an inert tool but an integral part of the theoretical/operational apparatus, both vessel and medium of the design exploration, considering algorithms as modes of thought, logic as aesthetic operation and the implications of the inevitable limits of computability. A design process grounded in computation calls for a radical redesign of itself, a paradigm shift encompassing its full gamut, conception to fabrication. This implies an extended definition of tectonics, an intensification and redeployment of the decisional pattern scale at the metabolic level, a consequent remapping of the involved personas and a transcending of the designing- making divide.
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The diffusion of a new paradigm is a transformative rather than a substitutive process. It is akin to a force acting upon a heterogeneous material compound: the parts that are liable to move, bend or restructure will process it, adapt and rearrange accordingly, while the more rigid ones (unable to process the new information, anchored to the old paradigm) will either crumble under the pressure (at the cost of losing their identity, while their sub-parts will be subsequently transformed as well) or resist and survive on a changed map, relocated and with changes in the shape and size of their range of influence. Not everything is destroyed, but nothing remains immune to change. Complexity-grounded paradigms and self-organization based strategies in their current stage of implementation and near-future foreseeable developments promise enormous potential when channeled in a design process, but while delivering groundbreaking results in research, they still strive to make a significant impact in the widespread architectural practice. Despite the adoption of computers is no longer a matter of debate, the supposed aura of pseudo-objectivity surrounding computation confined their use and understanding to an extension either of the drawing apparatus paradigm, ever since Sutherland’s Sketchpad (Davis, 2013), or the table calculator, in the management of quantitative information as such (the tedious task of automating arithmetic operations on quantities). In both cases, its place in the design pipeline always lies downstream of the conception part. It is only in recent years that the inherent potential for algorithmic creation surfaces, releasing computation from the perceptual cage of a crude, number-crunching tool and/or a sort of rectifier to imbue conceptual poetry with the necessary technical means for its engendering in the real world. Given the exponential shape of the curve that describes the development of an innovation or technology, this initial exposure is merely the anticipatory act of a big exploit to come that a broader, more significant accelerated process of change has in the making. In most cases, while tools are upgraded, previous theoretical backgrounds still persist and inform design approaches, thus hindering a proper understanding and application of the novel potential for creation. It is then of primary importance to adopt a design approach able to harness such potential and convey it in the generation of outcomes that favor a richer and heterogeneous ecological entanglement. To do so, first of all a stance switch is required: from a predictive towards a speculative interpretation of the project, in a rigorous yet open-ended fashion, to redefine and reshape the distribution of control, choices and information throughout the whole process (including the role of materials and construction as morphogenetic drivers and constraints).

This chapter will investigate the unfolding of such design process and the actors involved (mainly gravitating around - but not limited to - the discipline of architecture, since the act of design has broader coverage) within a framework of complexity and self-organization, analysing its impact, potential, consequences and evolution. A process that transcends the still persisting Albertian divide between designing and making, calls for a paradigm shift that encompasses its full gamut (conception to fabrication), and radically redesigns it along with the role and identity of the subjects involved.

Computation is here considered as foundational, an established and necessary premise to the whole discourse: not an accessory or an inert tool but an integral part of the theoretical/operational apparatus.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Albertian Divide: The separation between acts of intellect and execution, the threshold at which the notational representation of a project is considered the blueprint (or archetype) for the project itself (such as the collection of all final drawings of a building prior to construction). It is the divide theorized by Mario Carpo that separates conceivers and makers and that originated with Leon Battista Alberti’s treatises on precise notation for an oeuvre ’s faithful reproduction.

Emergence: The insurgence, in a group or collective of individuals, of properties that are not shared by any single individual. It is the “more” in the expression “the whole is more than just the sum of its constituent parts”.

Anexact: Internally rigorous but lacking finality. It differentiates from both exact (rigorous and perfect – such as platonic forms) and inexact (possessing finality but lacking rigor – such as a hand drawing of a platonic form). The term is particularly apt at framing the dynamics of matter and its morphogenetic capacity.

Swarm Intelligence: The collective behavior of decentralized, self-organized systems, natural or artificial.

Agency: The capacity for autonomous, independent decision. An agent is an entity that can perceive an environment and act upon it proactively, not just reactively.

Self-Organization: A process where a form of global order in a system (emergence of patterns at the global scale) arises by means and as a consequence of local interactions.

Mereotopology: (a portmanteau of mereology and topology) the study of the relations and boundary of parts of a system among themselves and with the whole.

Tectonics: (in Architecture) The realm in which the relations between formal organization and internal logics of a system are established. It engages the role of matter into the architectural discourse.

Computation: Information processing, an algorithmic processing of data in a finite number of steps or a given amount of time, that decides whether or not a given data belongs to the algorithmic set.

Matter: Temporary stable organization of energy and information in a structure that allows coherent information processing and enables higher complexity. A system scale which is ‘being in transit’, neither raw substance nor finalized form.

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