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Speculative Behavior

Desert Research Institute Concept, John DeMaio, 2016.

Architecture is a dynamic and flexible kind of discipline that encourages an environment full of ideas and innovation. Throughout history, many architects have been trying to publish manifestos and conceptions in a speculative manner which again disrupted the way people’s think and behave toward their surroundings. Being speculative is both intriguing and exciting as speculation gives the chance to create scenarios of some possible futures, also no one knows exactly what the future is going to be look like.

Computation is an exciting method of connecting the present and speculative future, which allows the generation of ideas and innovations. By computation, a more intricate outcome is possible in which it gives more answers and possibilities to the uncertainties. More possibilities mean more chance of creating efficiency and effectiveness in design. With this, the sustainable future is then not just a utopian dream that is untouchable. Moreover, creating a positive mutual symbiosis between designers and computers is how we would create the future. A future of innovations and thoughts that disrupt the lies and create change for a sustainable future.

T4T Lab, by Austin Madrigale, Christian Stiles, Yssac Bustamante. Texas A&M University, 2017.

Design Futuring: Towards a Speculative Manner

Throughout the history, people have been trying to predict what the future is going to be look like. From tarot cards, zodiacs, witch doctors, and even to animals (like Paul the Octopus) are the tools that used to predict the future in an intuitive manner. However, most of the methods are scientifically irrational and thus could not be use as criterion to really determine what the future is going to be look like.

Architecture as a rational discipline must not rely on unscientific process of thinking when looking into the future. One thing that must take into account is that there is no certainty of what is going to happen in the future. Therefore, scientifically there is no such thing as prediction. What exist is only a set of scenarios of possible future.[1] The framework of possible future is formulated through the understanding of the present and discuss the kind of future that people want and do not want. This way of describing of future is set through series of scientific researches which then connect the present and the future itself. These series of scientific researches are ultimately a system, in which in this digital age, architects need to have a deep understanding of the system in order to speculate the future.

System as a part of design process is critical to understand as this algorithmic process will determine what the outcome is. This approach creates series of possibilities and shape how design could determine the future.

Modern computer and algorithmic software development have allow us to have a more deeper understanding of the system framework and critically using that as a tool to speculate the outcome in an intuitive way. Fry states that design democracy allow more access and opportunities towards speculative and surprising outcomes.[2]

Speculative design in the past had restricted by economic constraints. However, now software and computer have become easily accessible by everyone, which this design democracy lets speculative design developed rapidly and become less constrained by economical barrier. New ideas and concepts then rising and people are using speculation to critically research and design systems to produce a more predictable outcomes and have a better observation or study of the possible future. Therefore, technological advantages in the present world would create a disruption in how design should be approached. Should we stay in the orthodox way of designing or use a speculative approach to discuss the possible future?

Bloomberg Pavilion parametric design process.

Design Computation: Human and Computer Symbiosis

Computer Aided Design or CAD has challenge people’s opinion on whether we should see CAD as killing designer’s creativity or actually part of the creative process itself. The former suggests that CAD with its limitations restricts how we could design and the end result of CAD is not a pure humanist process and sketches of creativity. However, these arguments seems to underestimate the power of CAD and make it as a scapegoat of the process. In contrast, the latter sees CAD as the tool to enrich the design process. Similarly, Oxman suggests that CAD is a tool that “enables the creation and modulation of the differentiation of the elements of a design”.[3] This absolutely would widen the opportunity to generate a more exciting and intricate designs.

As computer is used to help people producing outcomes, a question about human-computer relationship hierarchy is arising, whether (1) human fully exploits the computer, or (2) human and computer are equal in the process, or even the extreme one that (3) human is exploited by computer. To answer this we have to understand the process and motive behind using the technology.

The first one is computerisation, in which the author suggest that computer is only a tool for human to help realise ideas or concepts. It only making things faster and more efficient. In this concept, the creative process is only come from the designer’s mind and the computer contributes no innovative outcome in the process. There is less speculative process in this concept. Here the human-computer design hierarchy is limited to the exploitation of the computer without letting it to generate ideas and suggestions.

The second one is computation, which in this concept the computer is optimised to let it generate multiple design opportunities using digital process. While design process often surrounded by uncertainties,[4] computation would help designers as an investigation tool to solve design problems. A question might arise, is computation an intuitive process? The author’s answer would be: yes. As the creator and computer are still surrounded by uncertainties, intuition and creativity will always be needed to solve the problem. Computer as a logic and rational system lacks any creative abilities or intuition,[5] and thus it will need human to present the creative and intuitive process. Therefore, the human-computer relationship here is changing which both are at the same level, where one needs a deep analytical process and the other one needs a creative process of thinking. They then created a collaborative and mutual symbiosis between each other by sharing each other’s knowledge. Optimising design process by computer is not merely telling the computer what to do, but sometimes the computer also telling the user what probabilities, outcomes or things that can be optimised or avoided.[6] By using algorithm or a set of instructions, human is entering the process of finding a form, instead of just making a form.[7] Thus design possibilities are generated and the computer is optimised using its analytical way of thinking.

The last one where human is exploited by the computer. The author would not suggest that this is true as the computer still need human to be involved in generating the algorithms and parameters. Computer is truly not having any creative capabilities unless someone put some algorithms in. In other words, the creative and intuitive process of a computer is not a pure creativity as there has to be one who writes the set of instructions. Therefore, the hierarchy which human is ruled by computer does not exist.

The complexity of Spanish Pavilion material detail, Miralles Tagliabue EMBT, 2010

From Composition to Generation

The norm of architecture is always changing time to time. There was era in which set of aesthetic rules like symbolism, geometry, etc. that had become a fixed doctrine in the practice and retrieved as the base for every architectural creation. Modernism then came deny all those doctrines and introduced a more simplified idea of architectural creation. However, the ideas were still somehow sticked to the classical idea of symmetrical balance of form. In contrast, contemporary architectural practice tries to reject the idea of symmetrical aesthetic in creating forms. This practice encourages more genuine organic and intricacy qualities of architecture where digital platform is optimised to generate these qualities.[8]

Symmetry as the most orthodox norm of architecture now has become a question that challenge which way architectural philosophy and practice should follow. Whether stick to the idealisation of proportional series and numbers, or tries to learn the system of natural form in which we currently could only generate it using computation. The classic idea of symmetrical composition, however, does not offer space for further flexibility for searching and exploiting new geometrical forms. Similarly, Lynn argues that “symmetry was the absence of information”.[9] This idea of absence information questioned the system’s opportunity of symmetrical proposition in how it could produce the research of new typology of form and the encouragement to understand more the system of natural forms. Nevertheless, the method of compositing the idealisation of proportional series and geometric forms somehow limits the generation of forms and geometrical flexibility.

Using computation as the research method, this allows designers to have a deeper understanding of natural forms and geometries. Computation has the opportunity to add tons of new information in the design process.[10] Moreover, generative behaviour of computation also allows designers to deal with highly complex situation[11] that generates new ideas and thoughts. Computation-generated design somehow create a more intriguing, intricate and organic forms. However, in generating this kind of architecture, designers must first understand the complex set of information, rules and algorithms. It is necessary to understand the logic behind this to prevent designers to just copying forms without any knowledge about it.

Generative architecture then is a new type of creative process which it involves not only creativity and intuition, but also logical and analytical characteristic of the algorithmic thinking. Algorithm as the framework for thinking offers wider set of rules and instructions that does not bounded within norms or ideal proportion of design process. It allows extraordinary parametric geometries outcome and different type of form finding which would become the new typology of creativity process.

[1] Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, Speculative Everything: Design Fiction, and Social Dreaming, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2013), p. 44.

[2] Tony Fry, Design Futuring: Sustainability, Ethics and New Practice, (Oxford: Berg, 2008), pp. 7-10.

[3] Rivka Oxman and Robert Oxman, Theories of the Digital in Architecture, (London; New York: Routledge, 2014), p. 3.

[4] Yehuda E. Kalay, Architecture’s New Media: Principles, Theories, and Methods of Computer-Aided Design, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004), p. 1.

[5] Kalay, Architecture’s New Media, p. 2.

[6] Robert A. Wilson and Franck C. Keil, ‘Definition of Algorithm’, in the MIT Encyclopaedia of the Cognitive Sciences (London: MIT Press, 1999), p. 11.

[7] Branko Kolarevic, Architecture in the Digital Age: Design and Manufacturing, (New York; London: Spon Press, 2003), p. 13.

[8] Greg Lynn, ‘Organic Algorithms in Architecture’, TED Talks (2005), retrieved from <>.

[9] Lynn, ‘Organic Algorithms in Architecture’.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Brady Peters, ‘Computation Works: The Building of Algorithmic Thought’, in Special Issue: Computation Works: The Building of Algorithmic Thought, Architectural Design, Volume 83, Issue 2, (2013), p. 10.


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