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Cliff House 2012

Invited Distinguished Professor:  Roland Snooks. Kokkugia.



Gabriel Esquivel: Coordination and Fabrication.

Adrian Cortez, Project Manager and Designer

Zach Hoffman, Stephen Renard, Rafael Vazquez, Andrew Horne, Tyler Nagai.


Fabrication Team:

Jorge Cruz: Project Manager

Adrian Martinez, Cody May




Rather than giving precedence to the generation of form and then materializing it subsequently, in this project, form, structure, and materiality were derived simultaneously from a series of algorithms that mimicked the operations of biological evolution: selection, reproduction, and mutation [4]. The form was intelligent and efficient—informed and altered by real data from the program and context [2]. For the specific purpose of this paper, the argument will be based not on the project as a whole but rather as taking a “chunck” of the project and develop it as a prototype that was fabricated in composite materials but generated from agent based formations.

This design strategy allowed for the emergence of “complex, non-linear global systems” [2]. These biomimetic algorithms can become a blueprint of instructions that can be informed by data from any environment or program, making this strategy transferable to all contexts, at all scales [2].


A novel integration.


“Novel insights arising from collaborations between architects and other disciplines including biologists and aerospace engineering’s will give rise to formerly unseen models for research, education, and development in architectural design, biomedicine, nanotechnology, structural engineering, and software development. These new models will be made intelligent through the study of code in context” [2].


In times like today, when we have faced numerous important changes in architecture, the need to look into the future is once again of paramount importance. We have experienced tremendous complicated challenges in a context where technology has surpassed our expectations. We have also contended with tremendous handicaps in terms of materiality, construction methods, and economics. In a world of impoverished global economies, how can architecture respond to all these challenges? Perhaps, the best approach is an experimental method utilizing “small acts of Architecture,” or operating at a small scale with materials and fabrication techniques. It makes more sense to start with small problems rather than large more complex issues.  


Emergent thinking has led us toward the exploration of new methods of systems integration, construction documentation, and fabrication. Advances in computational technology have initiated the systematic transference of complex biological behaviors to architectural design and production. This transference, dubbed the new science of emergence, moves beyond superficial analogies between biological and architectural forms and into a profound new way of thinking about and producing architecture. According to Hensel, Menges, and Weinstock, “Emergence demands new strategies for design; strategies that are derived from the evolutionary development of living systems, from their material properties and metabolisms, and from their adaptive response to changes in their environment” [3].


These complex systems are layered in such a way that one system operates as the environment for another system, but they are not completely hierarchical. Each layer, or system, is integrated through multiple connections with the layer serving as its environment as well as with the layers it contains. Due to this complex integration, the systems are dependent upon each other and evolve interactively. Form, material, structure, behavior, and environment become integrated components of a single, complex system. This integration can be applied to architecture through the “recognition of architectural constructions not as singular and fixed bodies, but as complex metabolic and intelligent material systems that . . . are interlinked as part of the environment of other active systems, and that can be symbiotically related to the flow of energy and material in the system and processes of the natural world” [3].

The recursive process of random mutation and natural selection in nature provides a model for how a dynamic feedback between excesses and efficiencies can create innovation and elegance. This feedback logic is executed by using both generative and analytical algorithms as well as hands-on design techniques. 


The emergent paradigm also provides interesting implications for organization and materiality within structural systems. While the energy production systems discussed above are presented as metabolic in their own right and provide interesting implications for environmental connectivity, they are lacking the critical algorithmic, logic integration with form. As Weinstock stated, “The study of natural metabolisms . . . reveals that shape or morphology is deeply integrated within the means of capturing and transmitting energy” [4]. A metabolic system can never reach its full potential if it does not relate to the form of the system it is serving. Inversely, it is equally detrimental to apply biological form to a building with normative architectural performance. This superficial and metaphorical relationship between biology and architecture is mutually counterproductive, as it results in a lack of coherence between form and performance, reducing the integration of biological principles to a mere surface treatment [12]. It is the simultaneous, integrated derivation of architectural form and behavior—morphology and metabolism—that truly begins to move toward a biological paradigm [4].


Just as behavior must be integrated with morphology, so too must structural and material behavior. The evolution of all the multiple variations of biological form should not be thought of as separate from their structure and materials. It is from the complex hierarchies of materials within natural struct

According to Snooks, “Defining urban spatial organization through local associative rules also enables the replacement of a traditional staged master plan with a constantly adaptive three-dimensional urban fabric that is capable of incorporating contingencies based on real time information” [10]. This applies as well to the vocabulary of theory in the late twentieth century. In past decades, one could speak elaborately and with great nuance about everything that had to do with the temporal structure of the modern world. By contrast, it became comparatively difficult ten years ago to comment sensibly on the spatialization of existence in the modern world; a thick haze still covered the theory landscape.


The following points were addressed:

1. Emerging patterns and qualities in an extension of the system.

2. The moment when regularized organization starts to deviate from the initial pattern and create a heterogeneous configuration.

3. The three-dimensional quality of a branching system.

4. Structural, programmatic, and spatial implications of a generative system.

5. Use of line-work translated as performance studies through the aerospace engineering studies of air and gravity based studies using the program ABACUS as the software that interprets form and no- linear formations into performative information.

6. Taking line-work information into a 3D model that would be fabricated using composite materials exploring structural behavior as well as ornament and pattern.

ures that their performance emerges. Form, structure, and material act upon one another, and the behavior of all three acting on each other cann

Recent tendencies in architecture take a unique point of view, with aesthetically novel and unnatural sensibilities emerging from a close scrutiny and study of apparently natural systems. These speculative tendencies are being driven by mathematical and computational abstractions that transform the way we understand the matter-information relationship. Instead of form being imprinted upon matter, matter is understood as an active agent in its own formation. It promotes dissolution of linear hierarchies, enabling the heterogeneous and non-linear nature of complex agencies to hybridize and be incorporated into the increasingly complex fabric of architecture. “Under this accelerated convergence of matter-information, architecture can begin to speculate its own possible futures within denaturalized material ecology and conditions far from equilibrium” [5].


This cliff house offers many unique opportunities for the exploration of the transference of biological organizations, non-linear hierarchies and behaviors to architectural systems by using swarm logic. First, the house’s unique relationship to the site creates exposure to a multitude of environmental agents that could be harnessed for energy gain. For example, a house cantilevering from a cliff could generally span a chasm with naturally increased wind flow caused by a funneling effect.




1.     Gero, J. Research methods for design science research: computational and cognitive approaches. University of Sydney.

2.     Jones, P, Sabin, J (2007) LabStudio: nonlinear biosynthesis. University of Pennsylvania.

3.     Hensel M, Menges A, & Weinstock, M (2010) Emergent technologies and design. New York, NY: Routledge. 13-20

4.     Weinstock, M (2008 March/April) Metabolism and morphology. In Hensel, M, Menges, A (Eds) Versatility and vicissitude: performance in morpho-ecological design. Architectural Design, 78 (2): 26-33.

5.      Snnoks, R, (2007). Projects. Retrieved 12-20-11 from



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