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An Architectural Science: Evolutionary aspects of practiceembedded architectural research

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Zaha Hadid Architects embraced digital design and construction which has enabled the studio to challenge traditional ways of making architecture. ZHA has meticulously explored the possibilities of parametric design allowing for the conception and construction of architecture as seamless flows of energy and matter. Principal Architect of ZHA, Patrik Schumacher along with Shajay Bhooshan, Associate at Zaha Hadid Architects pen down their take on Computer Aided Design for Buildotech.

Shajay Bhooshan

The last five centuries of Modern Science, from Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin to the big science of the Large Hadron Collider and the Human Genome Project, has provided remarkable insights into two of the fundamental questions of human inquiry – the origins of the universe and that of life. In the last half a century, scientists have sought to subject cultural production and artefacts to similar rational enquiry using the tools of science – particularly those of physics and evolutionary biology. On the one hand, scientists have attempted to deploy physicsbased models of crystalline growth, fluid flows etc. to understand the consequents of culture – the built environment and cities. On the other hand, social behavior is posited as a form of biological adaptation of the human species and thus amenable to the application of models from evolutionary biology – a idea pioneered by Richard Dawkins (Dawkins, 1976), and subsequently developed by others (Cavalli- Sforza & Feldman, 1981; Gabora, 1995). Game theoretic models of evolution(Smith, 1974) and the logic of rational choice-making agents are making their way into computer simulations of human navigation and occupation of digital environments (Allbeck, 2010; Kapadia, Singh, Reinman, & Faloutsos, 2011).

Patrik Schumacher

In all cases, a rational causation is sought – simple laws and processes of interaction between fundamental units that over an extended period of iterative evolution, explains or simulates the complexities of present-day cultural production and social behavior. Philosopher Daniel Dennett, extends this evolutionary model, especially the mimetic approach espoused by Dawkins, to the specific cultural fields of design technology and design intelligence (Dennett, 2009, 2016a). In enquiring this inverse process of creating cultural and social artefacts, he compares the slow, trial-and-error, bottom-up, purposeless process of Darwinian evolution to that of a directed, rapid, top-down, purposeful search process of intelligent design. Specifically, he compares the design-processes of a termite mound versus that of Antonio Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia (Dennett, 2016b). In effect, he is extending the search mechanisms and tools of Darwinian spaces (Godfrey-Smith, 2009) – a space of all possible organisms, to that Design spaces, – a space of all possible (human-made) designs.

Completed curved crease folded shell at the 2012 Venice Biennale; images courtesy Zaha Hadid Architects

Computer aided design search

The advent of the computer and computer controlled machines in design and production of architecture, have both expanded the search space and expedited the search – i.e. both exploration and exploitation. Computational technologies have already allowed for the assimilation of techniques and results from the natural and formal sciences into architectural design –mathematics of geometry, building physics, material chemistry, etc. The methods of enquiry from the two sciences, on the other hand, is not as widely assimilated or in the least, not as widely understood(Schumacher, 2016). In other words, the use of computational tools is increasingly widespread, but not the attendant parametric design thinking and espousal of the principles of scientific enquiry.

A physical substrate to a sociological science

(top & bottom left) Distribution of rebar on tensile fabric guide-work (bottom right) Completed prototype; in Bangalore, India. Images courtesy Zaha Hadid architects

A specific point is noteworthy here. The aim of practice-based research is, ultimately, to build well i.e. to service the user. Admittedly, efforts in the past decade have focused on computational geometry as the mediating device between morphological, engineering and manufacturing logics. The exploration of the societal purpose of architecture has on the other hand, until recently, been left to accrued intuition of the designers: an intuition, to paraphrase Hillier & Hanson (1989), to “reproduce social circumstances in architectural form”. Nonetheless, the efforts described here may be viewed as compatible with, and in preparation towards, other research efforts to subject this intuition to rational enquiry (Schumacher, 2014).

Ingredients of an effective search

From our vantage point as a collaborative, multi-disciplinary firm operating from the heart of London, and from the midst of academia and practise, we highlight here, two aspects of architectural research. We believe these to be critical, amongst several others, to an efficacious search for solutions to given architectural problems.

Collaborative and cumulative research

The nature of relationship between architects, engineers and contractor-builders in post- Renaissance history, has fluidly oscillated between being unified to being distinct and domain specialised (Saint, 2007a). In the present time, the increased use of digital means in the design of the spatial and geometric aspects along with the structural and construction aspects of building, presents an opportunity for increased collaboration and co-authorship of design – i.e. a relationship situated between the domain general, ambiguous distinction of the 18th century and the domain-specialised, Bangalore, India. Images courtesy Zaha Hadid architects hard distinctions of the 20th century. The use of computers provides a unifying platform between various disciplines, especially in the early generative stages of design.

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