Parameter Update

Here's what has become of a couple of my experiments with Grasshopper...

'Curve Bender' is a test drive in manipulating curves and surfaces. There were no goals per se, other than exploring Grasshopper's capabilities in a somewhat prosaic way (i.e. making a blob).

'Self-organized Flats - Revisited' is much more interesting to me. This video is the culmination of the project I laid out in the original Parameter post. For more details, read here.

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. You may have guessed I did from the long hiatus!



I've been told that my posts are 'shop-talk' heavy. This post probably won't differ in that regard, but it'll have way more explanations and illustrations--starting with the results of an experiment in parametric design I conducted in my third year in school.

Parametric design is a fancy name that can lend itself to several interpretations. It refers to a mode of computer assisted design where forms, surfaces, sizes, shapes, configurations etc. are manipulated and controlled by a set of parameters. In execution, it usually entails the use of a software that generates shapes mathematically, which allows easy manipulation by applying mathematical functions. Here, 'parametric' refers to parametric equations.

Now when I say Parametric design can be variously interpreted, it is due to the notion that all design is 'parametric' in the sense that it is developed using sets of parameters. The model of design thought (framing a problem, making a move, then evaluating) comes down to what criteria--which parameters--you assess your work by. However, when generating design solutions using scripting (scripts-small computer programs that perform specific functions) and mathematical equations, the steps of design thinking collapse into a fluid state. The script is formed with a specific framing of the design problem in mind and evaluating parameters are built in. A series of moves are undertaken by the script, which output a result that can be manipulated (move + evaluate). All of these steps happen in real-time nearly simultaneously with a degree of fluidity which is harder to achieve with traditional methods.


Design & Thinking

I came across this interesting project, a documentary on design thinking, called Design & Thinking! They just finished a round of fundraising on Kickstarter and have been interviewing principals of this thing called design thinking (I said I'd get back to this theme often...) Well, so far so good. There's the prerequisite interview with IDEO's Tim Brown, Metropolis editor-in-chief Susan Szenasy, and Bill Moggridge of the Cooper-Hewitt. They're hitting all the marks. Sarcasm aside, it could be a really good film, or if this thing 'design thinking' isn't picked apart to discover what it really means, a kind of advertisement. I have hopes for the former. Here's what the filmmakers have to say:
"Design & Thinking" is a documentary exploring the idea of "design thinking"!
It will be one of the very few documentaries on design, and certainly the first about the impact design thinking has on the world.
Design Thinking was applied as a term and methodology by a design firm in 2008. It was received as a tool to solve every problem, from daily life decisions to business challenges to world hunger problems. Attention and debates followed; some insisted on design education in all K-12 schools, some declared it is just marketing tool for that firm, some hoped it would turn his company into Apple. Some said it's nothing new, just a new packaging of how creative people do things.
It's a work in progress for sure, but they seem to have a firm footing. Keep an eye out!



I've briefly touched upon effects of mid-twentieth century urban renewal in a previous post, and the form that urban reconstruction took at the time. The buildings may have looked different but the structure of urban centers remained largely the same despite massive social, political, and economic changes. I just came across this quote from Kevin Lynch's 1972 book What Time is This Place? I start quoting after a discussion of general efficiency and only limited failures in conception:
"Despite these more spectacular failures, the replanned public services and the regulation of rebuilding were both highly effective. The new city did not adjust as well to it's new economy, the changes in its population, or the shift from river traffic to road traffic. In these areas the City was planning for obsolete needs, but indeed most plans are preoccupied with the past. Moreover, and this is also not unusual, the changes bore most heavily on the poor."
Ok, this sounds about right. We're probably talking about Detroit or St. Louis, or one of the many 'Rust-belt' cities that sought to renew despite large shifts in the economy and in society. Having just seen the Pruitt-Igoe Myth (I highly recommend it!) it was clear that demographic trends went in the opposite direction of those projected by urban planners. Their misreading of population dispersal to the suburbs and de-industrialization laid their efficient work to waste to the detriment of the poor population left in the city.



Pao 2, Dwelling for a Tokyo Nomad Woman - Toyo Ito
The debate over the nature of society in the late 20th century and the emerging conceptions of a 'hypermodernism' (Tafuri, Virilio), 'reflexive modernity' (Giddens, Beck, Lash), or broadly a 'postmodern condition', generally revolve around the critique of modernism's inflexibility in the face of contingency and ambiguity. These theories respond to measurable changes in the institutions of modern society, particularly to the effects of globalization. Globalization is a complex phenomenon which has diverse impacts but I think there is an interesting urban dynamic that emerges from the economic process of decomposition.

One of the major impacts of economic globalization is the decomposition of national economies into a decentralized system of world trade. Sites of production have been relocated from developed nations to the developing nations to take advantage of low cost labor. Different levels of production--for instance assembly--have emerged in separate regions from specialized manufacturing, R&D, and marketing. Much of this is fueled by efficient logistics and instantaneous networked communications. The decomposition of industries is mirrored in the division of nations into regions of production and consumption. The emergence of high-tech manufacturing and a strong service and financial sector in post-war Japan placed it in the camp of consumer nations along with the west.



The 'crit'...

Piggybacking on the last point of the previous post, I honestly believe a lot of good would come from elucidating to design students the structure of thought that drives the process of design. Conceivably there could be a pitfall in creating a sort of checklist that stands in for an actual in-process mode of thought, but when one is engaged in design its cognitive processes naturally call for reflection. The designer, by necessity, must stop to contemplate their own mode of thinking. To elaborate I will again refer to Bryan Lawson and Kees Dorst's research on design thinking and expertise, particularly their model for the nature of design activities.

To start with, Lawson & Dorst present the caveat that 'design' is a generic term for a range of activities and professions. Furthermore, these activities are complex and entail elements of problem solving, learning, analytic and convergent thinking, and solution directed thinking. Their model provides a framework for understanding the steps toward solving a design problem with the acknowledgement that they are not followed in a strictly linear fashion. The steps often form feedback loops in advancing parts of an overall design. Now to the model, step-by-step:



By now you may be familiar with the axiom that to gain expertise in something requires 10,000 hours of practice. What does 10,000 hours of practice look like and how does it lead to expert status? In other words, one doesn't wake up on the morning after the 10,000 hour and suddenly have access to expertise, so there must be stages or levels on the way to "expert" status. Indeed, the state one reaches after 10,000 hours must be a constructed notion useful in evaluating relative experience—no doubt one continues to develop expertise beyond that point. It would also follow that these stages must be relevant to the practice in question. So, what do the stages of design expertise consist of?

Bryan Lawson, an architect and psychologist who specializes in researching the cognitive aspects of design thinking (the science of design), has developed an outline of these steps in his book What Designers Know. He begins by framing out the levels of expertise (via Kees Dorst and Hubert Dreyfus) as they will relate to the nature of each step. In a sense, each level of expertise roughly corresponds to a cognitive ability, although in reality the transitions are very fluid. The levels in ascending order are novice, beginner, competent, proficient, and expert. These levels are fairly straightforward, even if the differences between each level entail some interesting discourse. We will take them at face value to understand the five steps towards expertise which I will list below:



Central Shanghai, 2010.

A recent article in the China Daily relates a disturbing new phenomenon in several Chinese cities directly related to the rapid pace of growth. Due to deficiencies in the manufacturing, installation, or maintenance of glass curtain wall systems, some glass has been reported to shatter and fall, sometimes from great heights. These 'glass bombs' have injured and killed several people, and in the case of Shanghai, they have led to an outright banning of the extensive use of glass curtain wall systems in the city. Ones first reaction may be to wonder whether that's going too far given the ubiquity of glass as a modern building material. In fact how would this affect the look of the city?

While the Newtonian embodied energy of glass may be on display in the spontaneous shattering of windows, the energy embodied in glass by the process of manufacturing may be a more compelling—if hidden—reason to limit it's use. While not the highest embodied energy material (this distinction goes to steel and aluminum, which are also required elements in a curtain wall), the manufacturing of glass requires roughly 10 times as much energy as one of the most common construction materials in China: concrete. The figure comes out to about 12-25 giga-joules of energy for 1 metric ton of glass. (1 joule = 2.7778×10-7 kilowatt-hours)


Do Good

Above is the video from a discussion between Jeff Kipnis and Reinhold Martin on agency, held at the GSD earlier this year. I know it's long, but it's definitely worth the watch. If you want a so-so canned version that's readable in 10 minutes, this is by a GSD student who was present, posted on Archinect.

Before I get into it though I'll throw something in for contrast, and that I think speaks to my last post:
"A sense of space is closely connected with purposes. Even when architecture attempts to elevate this sense beyond the realm of purposefulness, it is still simultaneously immanent in the purpose. The success of such a synthesis is the principal criterion for great architecture. Architecture inquires: how can a certain purpose become space; through which forms, which materials? All factors relate reciprocally to one another. Architectonic imagination is, according to this conception of it, the ability to articulate space purposefully. It permits purposes to become space. It constructs forms according to purposes."
This is from Theo Adorno's "Functionalism Today", where he addresses the false separation of purpose-free form purposeful in Adolf Loos' distinction between ornament and functionalism. Purpose implies practical effects or usefulness. As Adorno argues the inseparability of the two (purpose-free and purposeful), it becomes interesting to consider that purpose can also imply ends or goals...



I'm going to float a hypothesis… I'm probably not the first one to think of it either, but I am interested in following this strain: The superficial "look" of architecturearchitecture as imageonly reflects the material biases of a designer. The underlying attitudes toward program and habitation reach a more fundamental comprehension of the designer's ethos. And that these attributes are essential to the architecture whereas the image is less so. Straightforward enough, right?

To use a loose metaphor: One's first impression of a person may be influenced by outward appearance, but even an unsatisfactory outward appearance can be overcome by that person's personality, and often that personality is not immediately perceived. A person who has an unsavory personality can dress impeccably but that will do little to make them friends.

So, even when using a similar approach or stylistic convention (parametric modeling, blobs), two architects may have very different attitudes regarding who the design is intended for, how the user occupies the space, how the design exists in a greater context, etc. I would include an example here, but the relationship seems to generally move in the opposite direction, highlighting only variations in image…

Ok. Without being too critical, as I have yet to do my homework, does this hypothetical work in practice? Are there architects who challenge the way a building or program operates and responds to society in an essential way or are we just dealing with decorated sheds here? And I'm not talking about the 'challenging preconceived notions' hyperbole architects use to exaggerate the power of superficial treatments.

I may be revealing my own bias that architecture is strongest when questioning the way things are (not just the way they look) and reimagining how they ought to be. After all, if designers only sought to make prettier phones, we wouldn’t have smartphones. Off to test my hypothesis!


South Street 2

Schermerhorn Row, South Street Seaport.

Continued from here.

In 1968, the same year that the replacement for New York's old Pennsylvania Station (Pennsylvania Plaza and Madison Square Garden) was completed, Schermerhorn Row on the southwest tip of Manhattan was designated an historic landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to save it from destruction. It would eventually become part of a larger redevelopment: the South Street Seaport.

From the beginning the planning of the South Street Seaport was divided between a variety of interests including the mayor's Office of Development, the Seaport Museum and affiliates, the Maritime Museum, the state of New York, various financial institutions, the Rouse Company, and several design firms. However, as the developer, the Rouse company set much of the agenda for the site, and on the tail of recent successes James Rouse proposed a festival marketplace.[1]


South Street 1

Corner of 4th & South, 1963 and 2011.

In 1968, the same year Jane Jacobs was arrested during a protest against the Lower Manhattan Expressway, Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi took up the fight against the Philadelphia City Planning Commission's scheme to replace South Street with a cross-town highway. Hanging in the balance was the premise that cities can be shaped and formed to meet the needs of their residents.

After the plans for the 'Crosstown Expressway' were made public, the Citizens’ Committee to Preserve and Develop the Crosstown Community (CCPDCC) formed to unite the communities of the South Street corridor against the highway and to create an alternative vision.[1] A driving factor behind the opposition was the idea that communities have a right to self-determination. This concept grew as a response to the power of planners in shaping urban environments, which arguably hadn't changed since the sweeping plans of Fredrick Law Olmstead and the City Beautiful movement transformed cities earlier in the century. However, the seeming absolute power that figures like Robert Moses engendered in treating populated neighborhoods as blank slates contrasted starkly with democratic principles.


Pruitt-Igoe Myth

In a previous post, I cited an article by Katherine Bristol titled "The Pruitt-Igoe Myth" detailing the tortured history of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing project and how it fits into larger narratives. There is also a new documentary film by the same name that is wrapping up screenings across the country this month that tackles the same themes.

From Pruitt-igoe.com:

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth tells the story of the wholesale changes that took place in the American city in the decades after World War II, through the lens of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing development in St. Louis.
At the film’s historical center is an analysis of the massive impact of the 1949 Housing Act, which built Pruitt-Igoe and other high-rise public housing of the Fifties and Sixties.  This critical piece of legislation also initiated the so-called urban renewal program and prompted the process of mass suburbanization, which emptied American cities of their residents, business and industry. 
Those that were left behind faced a destitute, rapidly de-industrializing St. Louis, parceled out to downtown interests and increasingly segregated by class and race.  
The residents of Pruitt-Igoe were among the hardest-hit.  Their gripping stories of survival, adaptation and success are at the emotional heart of the film.  The domestic turmoil wrought by punitive public welfare policies, the frustrating interactions with a paternalistic and cash-strapped Housing Authority, and the downward spiral of vacancy, vandalism and crime, led to resident protest and action during the 1969 Rent Strike, the first in the history of public housing.
And yet, despite this complex history, Pruitt-Igoe has often been stereotyped, with help from a world-famous image of its implosion, and used as an argument against Modernist architecture or public assistance programs.  
The Pruitt-Igoe Myth seeks to set the historical record straight, to examine the interests in Pruitt-Igoe’s creation, to re-evaluate the rumors and the stigma, to implode the myth.
The goal of this film is no small feat considering the power these myths hold... Catch a screening if you can.


Design Thinking

Ok, so this will be one post of manyDesign Thinking is all the rage. My interest lies mainly in the longer term study of the cognitive processes of designers and how these are applied to design problems, after all, the term goes back at least as far as the 1987 study Design Thinking by Peter Rowe. The ideas behind this study go back further to Donald Schön's Reflective Practitioner (1983) and research into the structure of problems in the study of artificial intelligence in the 60's and 70's (Simon Herbert and others).

Nigel Cross sums up the distinction between different approaches to the idea 'design thinking' in "Designerly Ways of Knowing: Design Discipline versus Design Science" by defining different states of the relationship between science and design. The first is scientific design, which alludes to fields of design which have distinct scientific underpinnings such as material science. The second is design science, which is more of an imposition of scientific discipline (ie the scientific method) on the process of design. As such this describes a systematic method of design which tends to produce a very rigid and insufficient response to design problems. The final relationship can be called the science of design, and this one points to design thinking.



Above is a map of the world according to the Greek geographer Strabo (64/63 BC – ca. AD 24), it represents a projection of all places known to the Western world during his time. In context (distance and configuration aside) it was entirely correct as a map. It would be impossible to include what was not known at the time.

Conceptually the map is interesting as it makes manifest what is known by experience as opposed to rigorous measurement. Strabo relies on his memories of journeys throughout the Mediterranean and other accounts to write the Geographica. In a sense he is relaying a personal geography. I use that term to refer to an intimate understanding of places, the places that are known to a person through their own experience. Just as Strabo intended with his work, this geography is made up of a combination of material, cultural, and phenomenal features. A personal geography is made up of the places one has been to, the experiences of those places, the activities; geography becomes a metaphor for memory.



Modern Architecture died in St. Louis, Missouri on July 15, 1972 at 3:32 pm (or thereabouts) when the infamous Pruitt-Igoe scheme, or rather several of its slab blocks, were given the final coup de grĂ¢ce by dynamite.
-Charles Jencks, The new paradigm in architecture: the language of post-modernism

One of the implications of Jencks famous pronouncement on the death of modern architecture is that of what might be termed architectural determinism. The growing problem of substandard public housing in the 1960s—underfunded, caught in political wrangling at the highest levels, and rife with mismanagement—could be boiled down to a simple problem of poor design. Jencks critique of arid landscaping and crime ridden hallways was linked to CIAM and Le Corbusier. "Good form was to lead to good content, or at least good conduct; the intelligent planning of abstract space was to promote healthy behavior".[1] While ostensibly denying the power of architecture to accomplish such feats, he later cites Oscar Newman's Defensible Space, which is conversely a claim that architecture is capable of promoting unhealthy behaviors.[2] Not mentioned were the deep budget cuts and political pressure the architects had to contend with while they eschewed ideological views ascribed to them.

Jencks aside, there is a larger problem within and outside of architecture in attributing certain powers to architectural space. In the case of Pruitt-Igoe, the notion that a style of architecture had graver effects on the people of St. Louis than deindustrialization, poverty, and racism, obscured these real problems and deflected criticism away from the political and economic institutions that were to blame.[3] In accepting the blame architects were free to offer new architectural solutions to solve these architectural problems, thus the problem of architectural determinism remained unresolved.


I'm working on a whopper for this afternoon so this morning I thought I'd share news of a new film by Gary Hustwit (Helvetica, Objectified).

Urbanized is a feature-length documentary about the design of cities, which looks at the issues and strategies behind urban design and features some of the world’s foremost architects, planners, policymakers, builders, and thinkers. Over half the world’s population now lives in an urban area, and 75% will call a city home by 2050. But while some cities are experiencing explosive growth, others are shrinking. The challenges of balancing housing, mobility, public space, civic engagement, economic development, and environmental policy are fast becoming universal concerns. Yet much of the dialogue on these issues is disconnected from the public domain.

Who is allowed to shape our cities, and how do they do it? Unlike many other fields of design, cities aren’t created by any one specialist or expert. There are many contributors to urban change, including ordinary citizens who can have a great impact improving the cities in which they live. By exploring a diverse range of urban design projects around the world, Urbanized frames a global discussion on the future of cities.

There are still screenings being added, so get on it!



The idea of orthodoxy is something of a perennial struggle in architecture. Coming from the Greek orthos meaning right or true, and doxa meaning belief or opinion, it has long been used in reference to conformance to religious creeds. A slightly expanded definition: of, pertaining to, or conforming to the approved form of any doctrine, philosophy, ideology, etc.[1] In the history of the modern movement and indeed going back further, there is a propensity to frame debate on architecture in terms of right belief, if one reads the various manifestos and statements.

From the outset architecture is a philosophical endeavor side-by-side with material concerns, thus the way we perceive and conceive of architecture is always the subject of appraisal and revision. The effect of solidifying ideas into an orthodox canon serves as a means to transmit and teach these ideas in a 'correct' form, but also serves to cut off further inquiry and frames other views as false. The debate over Modernism illustrates the pitfalls of orthodoxy, not only in Modernism itself but also in the new schools of thought that crystallized into new orthodoxies.

I think there is enough to chew here for an additional post... In the meantime, I'm sure I am missing some further details and hope to find them in the comments. Rule number one, if there is a book or article out there with relevance to the topic, I'd love to hear about it!

1. "orthodox." Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 20 Oct. 2011. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/orthodox>.

Blog as Diary

I've never kept a diary, but I always thought the potential of keeping one was in someone else reading it. There seemed to me no point of writing down what you already knew-although my poor memory should disabuse me of that notion-unless it was to leave a mental record behind for others to sift through and perhaps take inspiration from. I think we sometimes understand the thoughts of others with more clarity than our own.

The purpose of this "diary" is to collect thoughts on a range of topics and how they relate to the theory and practice of architecture. The title sets the tone, and I hope as the result of discussion, the idea of architecture in an ungrounded world may become ever slightly more firm.