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T4T LAB 2015


Gilles Retsin. Distinguished Invited Professor.


Coordinated locally by Gabriel Esquivel operated as a satellite office working remotely with feedback from the designers’ technical challenges and intellectual charge.  

Teaching Assistant: Matt Kohman.


01. Introduction : computing architectural objects

Set within an Object-Oriented framework, this studio investigated computational design strat­egies for an architecture of increased heterogeneity. In contrast to holistic, organic and para­metric fields, the studio is interested in accelerated or high resolution forms of bricolage and assemblage. Computationally, the focus was on developing design methodologies which work with the fundamental constituent objects of architecture - the bones – rather than the skin. Students will research methodologies to organize and assemble large amounts of elements into heterogeneous structures which respond to material, structural but also aesthetic con­cerns. The lab took a materialist, low-fi speculative approach, which just slightly shifts real­ity. Computational design methodologies focus on concepts like assemblage and discreteness, rather than organism and continuity. These processes were set in a messy and discrete work flow, not as a single meta-computational process, but more as a plethora of methods and ob­jects. Through establishing a rigorous connection between concepts of computation, hetero­geneity, objects and assemblage, the studio attempted to create a framework for understanding the relation between computational design and architecture.


The studio developed non-metaphorical computational strategies, a design ontol­ogy proper for architecture. Computational models are build up to organize and negotiate fundamental architectural objects into new, strange mereologies – or sets of part-to-whole relationships. The work resists a paradigm inspired by “nature,” which has been omnipres­ent within the discourse surrounding computation and architecture. Instead of appropriating computational logics from nature into architecture, we will try to develop a rule-set specific to architecture and the material infrastructure it is based on today. Instead of computing and generating predefined natural systems such as agent-based behavior, cellular automata or L-systems, the studio was interested in computing architectural objects.


02. Interregnum: the aggregatory

In recent years, architectural academia developed a renewed attention for the object instead of the field. Inspired by object-oriented ontology – architects started to question ideas of continuity, process, and nature which have been closely linked to the digital paradigm in the past two decades, where computational research in architecture initially started out with a deep interest for curvature, continuity and gradual change, new research understands computation as funda­mentally related to the concept of the discrete and distinct. This shift from continuous field to distinct object is profoundly linked with the nature of computation and information, which can in the end be broken down to the calculation of a single bit or unit. Computational process­es like Finite Element analysis, cellular automata, agent based systems and object-oriented programming languages are fundamentally based on discrete units rather then continuous wholes. Object-Oriented programming is a programming paradigm that translates concepts as objects or classes which have specific methods to interact – the agency or behavior of a class.

Levi Bryant describes his own philosophical work, in particular the book “The Democ­racy of Objects” , as a form of bricolage. Indeed, the book is eclectic and heterogeneous, an as­semblage of Deleuze, Luhmann, Lacan and Harman. For Levi Bryant, bricolage loses the nega­tive connotation and becomes a rich concept. Bricolage is the attempt to forge heterogeneous matter into a consistent object. From unrelated parts, a whole object emerges. The bricoleur works with matter, with the material infrastructure available.


In a non-bricolage process, there is a predefined whole which is assembled out of per­fectly fabricated, highly customized parts. These customized parts would have no existence outside of the whole – they are reducible to the whole. In bricolage however, as a strange mereology, there is initially no whole – there are only parts. There is an internal resistance and autonomy in the parts, a reluctance to be wholified into an overarching object. This is were the material - realist grounding of the bricoleur comes in. A bricoleur is fundamentally material­ist, as he has to somehow battle and negotiate with the material infrastructure of the parts he wants to wrap into one object. Within a framework of strange mereology and bricolage, com­putational power is not invested in the subdivision of an object, but in a process of formation as a messy assemblage of objects into an “emergent object”.


03. Ferment: mereology

Through a series of initial workshops, students were asked to develop a computational design strategy, in which local object-object interaction can create differentiation and establish bigger objects as high-entropy, contingent multi-object objects without a need for morphological co­herence. Computed interactions between the agential objects should result in a radically het­erogeneous architecture with previously unseen levels of information density. After a period of tooling-up where students familiarized themselves with Processing, Rhino/Grasshopper and Zbrush , a concrete design project rooted both as a computational and theoretical response will be developed. The theoretical response aims to understand the nature of the object within an assemblage and a framework of part-to-whole relationships.

Students were expected to produce an actual readable architectural proposal for a project, both through digital computing and physical model building. Physical models can help developing rules for the assemblage of material elements. The architectural proposals will spe­cifically develop knowledge and strategies about the interaction between small scale elements and large-scale mass. The studio resisted “mereological nihilism” where an overall building model is developed and generated without interaction with matter and material, and subse­quently subdivided in customized building components. Architectural projects emerged from a messy feedback between high-resolution assemblage of discrete bits of material and top-down design intend. Core-issues such as the relation between envelope and structure, surface and mass, opaqueness vs. transparency will develop as examples of top-down decision making.

As a final output students produced large-scale renderings and drawings, as well as a 1:33 scale physical model.


04. Appendix: example research questions

- Architectural mass with an envelope as a volume which dissolves into discrete elements tran­sitioning between cladding and structure. Envelope and floor plates act as the same object.

Mass conceived as multiple horizontal strata distinct from the envelope, as well as all vertical structure.

- Mass as an heterogeneous assemblage of different discrete elements which are not symmet­rical with objects such as structure, envelope, horizontal or vertical elements. Designed transi­tions between different objects can be developed, as glitch, abrupt shift, layering or gradient.

- Questions of heterogeneity and differentiation: one element developing a field of variation vs. multiple diverse objects interacting. ( equivalent of abstract expressionism vs. baroque composition / Pollock vs Rubens)

- Issues of assemblage: what is the scale of en element and the status of a piece? Are things as­sembled on site or off-site ? Recursive transition of scale, different hierarchies of discreteness / strange mereology.

- Low-Fi character, proportion between standardization and customization based on an avail­able material infrastructure.

- Structure alignment; how much is material organized in respect to ideas of assemblage and structural criteria. There is no optimum; only an ecology of interaction between different el­ements. If one organization of objects is too weak, it could give rise to a second object which reinforces the first one, which would result in more heterogeneous assemblages.


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