Computers have transformed architecture in remarkable ways.
They’ve made it possible to visualize designs in fully-rendered 3D graphics and to automatically check designs against building codes and other standard specifications. And they’ve made designs possible that were unthinkable or unimaginable 50 years ago, as they can crunch the numbers on complex equations and even generate plans or models from high-level requirements. Architecture, like music, art, games, and written stories can be created algorithmically.
One architect exploring this idea is Michael Hansmeyer, who is currently a visiting professor at Southeast University in Nanjing, China. He sees architecture as being at an inflection point whereby the maturation of computation and fabrication technologies means that we’re entering an era where the formerly impossible is now doable and the unimaginable is taking form.
Complexity is no longer an impediment but rather an opportunity, he writes on his website. And we see this embodied in his work, which is full of fine lines and curves and intricate patterns and shapes that look almost alien.
Most famous among his projects is Digital Grotesque, a 2013 collaboration he did with fellow computational architect Benjamin Dillenburger. To make their design, the pair wrote a program that uses a subdivision algorithm to divide the surface of each column into four smaller surfaces, each slightly different in texture (though not randomly so), and then divide those surfaces on and on to ever-smaller surfaces. In the process, the form of the structure morphed into something elaborate and alien yet also clearly rooted in geometry.
The complexity of the result wowed people who saw it in person. Hansmeyer tells Gizmag that people insisted on touching the columns, despite signs asking them not to. He finds this exciting, as it shows how algorithms can so easily encode different scales and levels of information into architecture.
Asked whether a human could have designed Digital Grotesque via a traditional method, Hansmeyer jokes that “it’s difficult to draw sections of a column with sixteen million facets using a traditional pen or a mouse,” though he concedes that it’s theoretically possible. More interesting, he notes, is that algorithmic design such as this is three-dimensional to begin with – it needs no intermediary 2D representation, as is the norm in architectural design.
Read more: Creative AI: Algorithms and robot craftsmen open new possibilities in architecture
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