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Tectonic Thinking after the Digital Revolution. References: Christopher Alexander: Notes on the Synthesis of Form Frei Otto: Finding Form Adriaan Beukers : Lightness Cecil Balmond : Informal Reiser + Umemoto : Atlas of Novel Tectonics Patrik Schumacher: SoArch Lecture, 2012.02.14.

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tectonic thinking after the digital revolution

Tectonic Thinkingafter theDigital Revolution


Christopher Alexander: Notes on the Synthesis of FormFrei Otto: Finding FormAdriaanBeukers: LightnessCecil Balmond: InformalReiser + Umemoto: Atlas of Novel TectonicsPatrik Schumacher: SoArch Lecture, 2012.02.14

  • "It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, Of all things physical and metaphysical, Of all things human and all things super-human, Of all true manifestations of the head, Of the heart, of the soul, That the life is recognizable in its expression, That form ever follows function. This is the law.”
  • Louis Sullivan
  • “... Eduard Sekler defined the tectonic as a certain expressivity arising from the statical resistance of constructional form in such a way that the resultant form could not be accounted for in terms of structure and construction alone.”
  • “These notes are about the process of design; the process of inventing physical things which display a new physical order, organization, form, in response to function.”
  • “…every design problem begins with an effort to achieve fitness between two entities: the form in question and its context. The form is the solution to the problem; the context defines the problem.”
  • Christopher Alexander
  • “Efficiency depends on the trinity of material, shape and the process of making. The lighter that constructions have to be, the more critical the balance between these three.”
  • Adriaan Beukers
minimal architecture
Minimal Architecture
  • “Tomorrow’s architecture will again be minimal architecture, an architecture of the self-forming and self-optimization processes suggested by human beings. This must be seen as part of the new developing ecological system of the people who have densely and peacefully settled the surface of the earth. It ia an architecture that respects genuine traditions and the multiplicity of forms in animate and inanimate nature.”
  • Frei Otto

The structural membrane acts also as the weathershield

Cable Nets

A separate grid of structural cables supports a non–structural weathershield

Arches, Vaults & Shells:

Arch and vault constructions use little material and small mass when the form is generated by the inverted catenary, or for shells, the inverted net.

cmu school of architecture legacy
CMU School of Architecture Legacy
  • “GLIDE: A system for implementing design databases” by Charles Eastman and Max Henrion -- 1978-1980
  • “On the representation and generation of loosely packed arrangements of rectangles” by Ulrich Flemming -- 1985-1988
  • “Strategies for Interactive Design Systems” by Robert Woodbury -- 1986
  • “The Role of Shape Grammars in the Analysis and Creation of Designs” by Ulrich Flemming -- c1987
  • “Rule-based Systems in Computer Aided Architectural Design” by Ulrich Flemming -- 1987
  • “Integrated software environment for building design and construction” by S J Fenves, U Flemming, C Hendrickson, ML Maher, and G. Schmitt -- 1990
columbia gsapp legacy
Columbia GSAPP Legacy
  • Tschumi, Allen, Lynn, Kipnis, Kwinter, van Berkel, Delanda, Somol, Zaera-Polo, Benjamin, Reiser, Umemoto
  • From Princeton, the “Atlas of Novel Tectonics” by Reiser + Umemoto
definitions by cecil balmond
Definitions by Cecil Balmond
  • “Structure is architecture.”
  • “The placing of structure and its elements creates rhythms.”
  • “Structure is about organization.”
  • “Design navigates by pattern recognition.”
informal by cecil balmond
Informal by Cecil Balmond
  • …the informal steps in easily, a sudden twist or turn, a branching, and the unexpected happens - the edge of chance shows its face
  • Delight, surprise, ambiguity are typical responses; ideas clash in the informal and strange juxtapositions take place. Overlaps occur. Instead of regular, formally controlled measures, there are varying rhythms and wayward impulses.
  • Uniformity is broken and balance is interrupted. The demand for Order! in the regimental senses is ignored: the big picture is something else.
u penn blogosphere by metamechanic form and space are dead i am emulating nietzsche here
U.Penn Blogosphere by metamechanicForm and Space are dead. (I am emulating Nietzsche here)

Forms and Algorithms is a pre-requisite to Cecil Balmonds studio. …. why are architect students learning VB and C# in the realm of SmartGeometry, Generative Components, and Rhino scripting, why so rigourous? Well its the end of this Form and Space obsession of architecture. I am sure this isn't Balmonds intention, but thanks to the rebels against the cube, Form and Space are done.

Here is the quick history:1. Modern architecture oblished [sic] ornament and abstracted the basics forms for us (Adolf Loos, De Stijl)2. Space became free flowing (FLW, Mies)3. Then all the straight forward basic principles failed on many levels, urban planning, meaning, etc... 4. Po-mo, Italian Rationalism but within a context of the varnacular [ic], Michael Graves, Corb's brutalism and Ronchamp, Robert A.M. Stern historical crap, Archigrams fun overly technolica [sic]l conceptions, Archizooms presentation of full force modernity as an apocalyptic situation5. Semiotics, writing cities, etc...importing linguistics and social sciences (Henri Lefebvre, Roland Barthes, etc...) so that architecture may form a language6. Deconstruction...importing a philosophy to deconstruct the language of architecture (Derrida, Deleuze)7. Situationism and Events...importing hedonistic temporal duration cinematic experience architecture crap (Debord, cinematic application of Bergson)8. Existenialism [sic], Power, and Dwellin...Heideger, Foucalt, etc...9. Blobs....10. Ribbons...11. High-Tech as style and justified by Sustainability12. Gehry Technoligies [sic] ....capable of making extremely complicated forms affordable and buildable via Catia platform based Digital Project13. Forms and Algorithms...I know you're saying how can you end it with a class you're taking. trust me its the end, and Forms and Algorithms is just another Brick in the Wall.

u penn blogosphere by metamechanic
U.Penn Blogosphere by metamechanic

see the cycle. clarity via scientific analysis rebelled against via artistic concepts, just to become scientific again... you're thinking, won't architects resort to rebelling again....what do you propose?

I have one answer for you...CAS's and Emergence....complex adaptive systems and emergence, a combo of phase transititions [sic] in physics, cellular automata, economics realization that their objects of study are agents of irrational behavior. in the world of architecture this means our forms and spaces evolve themselves via genetic rules and the enviroment [sic].

So why would Form and Space be dead?

well, emergence and CAS's exclude the designer from the design of forms and space. the designer designs the rules and lets it fly.Conclusion: the study of form and space in itself is dead, we've covered all the bases so let us move on to more important things...please!

Form and Space should be taught like English 101: i.e. this is a cube, cubes are useful for this, this is a blob, historically applicable as this...but no need in wasting hours of studio time justify Form and Space...

with that said I love my Forms and Algorithms class, i intend to use to exclude me from design decisions unless of course I want to make one, but I really don't feel like justifing [sic] form and space anymore, its so damn elementary.


How does one produce multiplicities in formal arrangements?

  • How does one produce multiplicity in structure?
  • How does one produce multiplicity in function?
  • AONT - 2006
AONT - 2006

Geometry & Matter, Balmond/ Ruy, 2004

In theoretical physics, there is an emerging interest in a shift away from grids to a model of network relationships - from a model of the universe as a collection of bodies in universal space to a background-independent model of spatial/ temporal relationships evolving over time.

An astonishing consequence of the network model is a radically new definition of space as a consequence of relationships.

form v function by patrik schumacher
Form v. Function by Patrik Schumacher
  • We can identify in every function system a so-called lead distinction. The lead distinction for architecture is form versus function. You find it in Alberti. You find it in all major self-descriptions. This lead distinction is the re-entry of the system-environment distinction into the system. So with the category of form, architecture represents itself to itself as distinct from function, which is the category representing the external world reference of architecture.
parametricism by patrik schumacher
Parametricism by Patrik Schumacher
  • It’s important to give a conceptual definition of parametricism in terms of parametric malleability, but there is also an operational definition of parametricism. When I first started to talk about parametricism I was talking about formal heuristics, but now I find it necessary to also talk about functional heuristics, because a style is not just a matter of form and formalisms. Each style also introduces a particular attitude and way of comprehending and handling functions and program. Any serious style must take a position on these issues, and I think we have a different attitude and position with respect to function than the modernists. We need both functional heuristics and formal heuristics.
dystopia by patrik schumacher
Dystopia by Patrik Schumacher
  • The (best?) students of the current generation as well as their teachers seem to think that the ordinary life processes of contemporary society are too boring to merit the avant-garde’s attention. Instead we witness the invention of scenarios that are supposedly more interesting than the challenges actually posed by contemporary reality. The point of departure for the majority of projects are improbable narratives with intended symbolic message or poetic import. Accordingly the resultant works are statements or allegories rather than designs.