18: Computational design thinking




 However when we study forms, the organic ones in particular, nowhere do we find permanence, repose or termination. We find rather that everything is in ceaseless flux - Johan Wolfgang von Goethe

Contrary to possible expectation, Computational design thinking is not a tutorial of computational methods or a survey of successful implementations of computer-aided design, it is rather an elastic compendium on a century-long conversation on the practical and ontological impact of computational thinking in architectural systems.
The overall metric of the book is not consistent, obviously, due to the fact that is written by different authors at different times yet the selection and cadence of each text is pertinent making the development of ideas seem palpable. Each writing is accompanied by a elucidatory introduction by Achim Menges and Sean Ahlquist which proves helpful in introducing the complexity of each text and locating its content within its unique context. 

Both geometry and architecture have the power to express and organise space by using representations outside the constraints of a direct mapping to the physical. The principal distinction between them lies in their levels of abstraction and generality. Geometry, as a pursuit, looks for the greatest generalities and, once established (proved) offers them up as truths. Architecture very selectively employs these general relationships constructively to underpin and create specific spatial relationships - Jane Burry
Over the last half century, architecture has been slowly adapting its representational practices from the conception of objects of sensory engagement to the construction of systems of formally described relationships - Jane Burry

The use of computers and and its theorization originated far from the discipline of architecture; therefore, it is expected that this book discusses topics and theories well outside it, yet this publication somehow manages to relate the generation of form and its implementation as a dynamic system to current paradigms of computational design.
After the post-Darwinian-Von Neumann revolution, thinkers and mathematicians such as D'Arcy Thompson and Goethe found themselves studying natural forms in relation to their environment, inventing the discipline of Morphology as the rigorous study of form and its geometrical documentation.
As it was the work of early pioneers such as Ivan Sutherland and Nicholas Negroponte to bring in from the fringes a proto computer-aided design methodology within this revolution the understanding of systems was of great importance since that, with the advent of the computer, the calculatory capabilities of systems incremented a hundredfold. Is architecture a system? and if so, could all the initial parameters by explained within an architectural problem? The addition of ideas to this topic is provided by: Christopher Alexander Systems generating systems, Ludwig von Bertalanffy's general systems theory, Gordon Pask's cybernetic theory and John H. Holland Constrained Generating procedures.

The term 'hylemorph' indicates what is needed to design an object. It derives from hyle, meaning matter on the one side, and morph, meaning form, or on the other. So when we design a table by means of the hylomorphic model, we take a form (morph) - the image of the table we would like to design - and press it into the wood (hyle) - the material by which the image should be realised - Peter Trummer

A large portion of this book is dedicated to biological thinking and genetics as well, whether it is Michael Weinstock's emergent properties and morphogenetic spaces, Ernst Mayr and Peter Trummer's population thinking, Peter J Bentley and David W Corne's evolutionary systems  and heredity principles or John Frazer's natural architecture.
The theoretical backdrop and philosophical musings are provided by Manuel de Landa and Sanford Kwinter warning us against the digital electronic paradigm as well as reminding us of that the potential inherent in matter itself and its aggregatory capacities for form generation.


Mathematician and philosopher (Henry) Whitehead argued that process rather than substance was the fundamental constituent of the world, and that nature consists of patterns of activity interacting with each other - Michael Weinstock

As the ubiquity of computers in the design world is evident we have William J. Mitchell and Kostas Terzidis giving us an understanding of computers as intelligent machines, questioning the role of authorship and computational design as capable of ' deducing specificity', a way of thinking which uses computers as multi-modal dynamic liberators of design, a thought best expressed by Achim Menges as he explains the difference computation vs computational: 'Computation as a design methodology is to formulate the specific. Where computer-aided processes begin with the specific and end with the object, computational processes start with elemental properties and generative rules to end with information which derives form as a dynamic system'


In other words, we should think of design systems as open, flexible, constantly evolving knowledge-capture devices rather than static collections of familiar tools and dispensers of established wisdom -William J. Mitchell



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ISBN 10 - 0470665653