Thursday, April 30, 2009

1mm architecture

what if, asks don, you paint the entire back side - the "square" side of your building - white. all white. it would take a year...your thesis would be the planning, organization and execution of could be out there everyday painting. and at the end, you would present a light show in the "square". an event that would transform this space by drawing people to it over an extended period of time and ultimately making it legendary.
architecture: 1mm thick
my reaction was immediate and clear - i'm much too precious about my building to ever want that to happen, let alone initiate it. no way. my reaction made me wonder at its cause. what would be lost if the wall was painted white? the cracks in the plaster, the colour of the stones of 1867, the rust, the multi-coloured mullions. the contrast of brick to stone to brick. the yellow door.
what is the value of these parts of the building - the colours, materials, contrasts? what about wear? what is lost if the entire facade is wiped clean? equalized? whitewashed? what role do they play in the everyday actions and interactions of the building's users?
now i hear that someone has bought up main street, the entire block between water and ainslie...both sides. if that's true, what will he or she do to these buildings? to my building? will she remove all of the additions? unify the colour scheme? scrub the building from top to bottom? pull out the weeds that grow under the unused stoops? put the benches back in? kick out the drug dealers? all the have-not tenants? the small business owners? replace cafe13 with a kelsey's? what is lost if these changes are made? what can be learned from the bits and pieces changed and moved over time by people who live and work in the building? could that knowledge inform the design? is it possible to do more than clean up the building? what parts of the emergent complexity of this building can be retained or re-introduced in a new design? what if what if what if?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

letting go

i once designed a pavilion for the end of the world --one day the pig spit was gone and it was an art gallery
i am leaving behind the plan and finding a thesis... slowly... soo slowly

a picnic table?

today i had a daydream -- i was carrying a grungy white plastic patio table and a walking train of grungy white plastic patio chairs followed me, down ainslie, across the parking lot and onto the lane... two ladies had tea under an umbrella in the sun at our plastic patio table - now it's sparkling white everything is greener and gold-tinged - the ladies look into the distance, eyes squinting against the sun - the building is a backdrop in a field. a set for tea. also... there are 26 sets of windows, counting from water street east towards ainslie, which are nearly identical and match the "old galt" photo from cambridgeweb . after the original style there are seven sets of windows of a more decorative style then five more of the old style, then...
how can i have not noticed this building before?
the first 26 window sets are held in walls of stone...a combination of a number of separate buildings, several of which have been rebuilt. a variety of commercial additions adorn the back lane - their roofs are patios for the apartment-dwellers above.

Monday, April 27, 2009

who else is working on emergence and architecture?

the bartlett (at university college london): MSc adaptive architecture and computation

The MSc Adaptive Architecture and Computation aims to give students a comprehensive understanding of the practical skills required to create generative, emergent and responsive forms, through exposure to real programming environments. In order to achieve this goal, the course team comprises both architects and experts in artificial intelligence. Programming is taught through the Processing language, which was created to teach computation to designers with no prior experience of computing. Time is dedicated to studio sessions with experienced tutors who have a track record of research into architecture and computation.

Alongside the practical classes, the MSc AAC offers a unique theoretical framework. We believe that the true power of the computational methodology is only realised through an understanding of its interaction with the social, environmental and spatial context in which it operates. To this end, the course team are embedded within UCL Bartlett's 5*-rated SPACE research group, which specialises in, and originated, the field of space syntax. Two lecture series present both the process side of the generation of environments, as well as the social implications of the product. Lectures from the course team are balanced by guest lecturers from the forefront of practice and research. The central theme of the lectures is one of how to create embedded, embodied and adaptive design. That is, design that couples the relationship of spatial configuration and society to the computational ability to analyse and respond to the environment.

design that couples the relationship of spatial configuration and society to the computational ability to analyse and respond to the environment (this is great!) embodied embedded cognition - intelligent behavior emerges out of the interpay between brain, body and world processing 1.0
Processing is an open source programming language and environment for people who want to program images, animation, and interactions. It is used by students, artists, designers, researchers, and hobbyists for learning, prototyping, and production. It is created to teach fundamentals of computer programming within a visual context and to serve as a software sketchbook and professional production tool. Processing is an alternative to proprietary software tools in the same domain.
MIT Media Lab
Object-Based Media How to create communication systems that gain an understanding of the content they carry and use it to make richer connections among users. Computing Culture How artists and engineers can refigure technology for the full range of human experience. Changing Places How new technology and strategies for design can make possible dynamic, evolving places that respond to the complexities of life. Viral Communications How to construct agile, scalable, collaborative systems. Society of Mind How various phenomena of mind emerge from the interactions among many kinds of highly evolved brain mechanisms. Smart Cities How buildings and cities can become more intelligently responsive to the needs and desires of their inhabitants. Human Dynamics How social networks can influence our lives in business, health, and governance, as well as technology adoption and diffusion.
architectural association school of architecture: emergent technologies and design
core studio The core studio begins with an intensive period of knowledge and skill-building sessions. Studio discussions focus on concepts such as morphogenesis, emergence and self-organisation, while a first module focuses on skills in Rhino NURBS modelling and scripting. This is followed by the introduction to material self-organisation and form-finding as design methods that lead to performance-oriented design. This year the studio will focus on vector-active and form-active structural systems, culminating in the design, detailing and construction of two structures. Before the design charrette begins, an intense module introduces concepts and methods of analysis and simulation. The designs are then further elaborated in the manufacturing and assembly module, which emphasises the relevance to low-tech (construction) contexts of the designs evolving from the research of the Emtech programme. The characteristics and behaviour of materials, together with manufacturing and assembly logics and the behaviour and performance of the designed system, are key elements of the integral design approach introduced in the core studio. This strategy deploys the inherent properties and behaviour of materials in material assemblies that respond to the specific stimuli of their context. Modelling and analysis of natural and manufactured systems are introduced to provide the techniques necessary for the development of morphological complexity and performance in designs for the built environment.
emergence and design ‘Emergent’ is defined as that which is produced by multiple causes, but which cannot be said to be the sum of their individual effects. It has been an important concept in biology and mathematics, in artificial intelligence, information theory and computer science, and in the newer domains of weather and climatic studies, the material sciences, and in particular biomimetic engineering. Commonplace terms such as ‘self-organising structures’ and ‘bottom-up systems’ have their origin in the science of emergence, and are encountered in fields as disparate as economics and urbanism. The seminar course will commence with a survey of the origins of the science and technologies associated with emergence, commencing with D’Arcy Thompson and Alfred North Whitehead, through Turing’s work on cryptographic analysis and on the mathematics of biological development, to the development of evolutionary algorithms. The conceptual structures and philosophies of Emergence in Evolutionary Computation and Artificial Life will be reviewed, and the course will conclude with a series of digital experiments in algorithmic design.


copy paste collage collect the analysis is this thesis just a note, to myself

Friday, April 24, 2009

watching - my favorite so far

thank goodness for spring! here is a new video sped up 1000%: 09.04.22 (from south side of parking lot) a close up of a kid playing on the fire escape:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

galtsite 1867

i found a map hanging in a pub in the building i am studying - in cafe13's "the galt club" (a rental room upstairs from the regular pub). here is a picture of that map, to scale (approximately), with the current area plan overlaid in red. this was pretty close to the beginning of galt. a little history:

"In 1784 the British Crown granted to the Six Nations Indians, in perpetuity, all the land along the Grand River six miles deep on each side of the river from its source to Lake Erie. The Indians, led by Joseph Brant, had the land surveyed in 1791 and divided into Indian Reserve lands as well as large tracts which they intended to sell to developers. One such developer was the Honourable William Dickson who, in 1816, came into sole possession of 90,000 acres of land along the Grand River which was later to make up North and South Dumfries Townships.

Mr. Dickson intended to divide the land into smaller lots to be sold, primarily, to Scottish settlers whom he hoped to attract to Canada. In the company of Absalom Shade, Mr. Dickson immediately toured his new lands intending to develope a town site which would serve as the focal point for his attempts to populate the countryside. They chose the site where Mill Creek flows into the Grand River and in 1816 the settlement of Shade's Mills was born. The new settlement grew slowly but by 1825, though still very small, it was the largest settlement in the area and was important enough to obtain a post office. Mr. Dickson decided that a new name was needed for the Post Office and consequently the settlement and he chose Galt in honour of the Scottish novelist and Commissioner of the Canada Company, John Galt. Settlers resisted the introduction of the new name preferring the more familiar Shade's Mills. After Mr. Galt visited Mr. Dickson in the settlement two years later, the name "Galt" received more wide spread acceptance.

In its early days Galt was an agricultural community serving the needs of the farmers in the surrounding countryside. By the late 1830's, however, the settlement began to develop an industrial base and a reputation for quality products that, in later years, earned the town the nickname "The Manchester of Canada". Galt was the largest and most important town in the area until the beginning of the 20th century when it was finally overtaken by Kitchener. The town continued its steady if unspectacular growth and reveled in its reputation as an industrial town whose products reached around the world." (, april 23, 2009, 10:40 pm)

also...could this be my building?

this one definitely is (the building on the right):

(historical images from

galt downtown

today i drew some more: (the drawing still needs a lot of work: the crop/layout needs more consideration, a highlight of some sort needs to be applied to my site, and something mysterious needs to happen to make this mean something to my proposal)


here is a new video sped up 1000%: 09.04.22 (from south side of parking lot)

a wedding!

my video setup isn't yet complete, so i only get an hour or so a day of recording. sadly yesterday i wasn't recording when apparently a white stretch limo pulled up right next to my stoops! a pair of newlyweds stepped out and took photos. a little birdy told me they took photos here: and here: an artist's impression of this event:

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


here is a new video sped up 1000%: 09.04.22 (from south side of parking lot)

landscape or portrait?

i took some more photos of my site, particularly photos of the view from the stoops/frontdoors. the first time i went out, my zoom was in and i took landscape pictures. i loaded them up and realized that they didn't match the rest of my set - photos taken last september and october. so i retook the sets (see the slideshows in my sidebar "frontdoorview" and "stoopview") in a portrait orientation zoomed out in order to see the full height of the building and the street in front of it i know i like the landscape images better, but i wonder which one is "truer"?

Sunday, April 19, 2009


here is a new video sped up 1000%: 09.04.17 (from south side of parking lot)

urban form through time

today i drew. (the diagram still needs a lot of work: i have layered a few sources which need editing/confirmation, more source material is needed, and the crop/layout needs more consideration)

Friday, April 17, 2009

a bad day

how sad that when the sun is finally shining outside i am here writing to you all. and not writing with sunshine-fueled joy, but rather a heavy heart. i liked my title. i liked it because it pointed me in a direction i was interested in. i don't like the new title at all. it is not my title. it is not my thesis. i don't like the building i am studying, or the city it is in, and really i couldn't care less about the people who use it. so i'm fucked. but also apparently halfway done. great.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

a new name

Juliet: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet."

- Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2) In real life, unlike in Shakespeare, the sweetness of the rose depends upon the name it bears. Things are not only what they are. They are, in very important respects, what they seem to be. - Hubert H. Humphrey (1911 - 1978)
philip has asked me to consider re-naming my thesis...he's made a compelling argument: that emergence is too imprecise a term with which to define my work and that the imprecision and popularity of the term leads to a lack of engagement on the part of casual critics with my actual interests in favour of their own biases on the topic. not to mention that i need to be much more precise in all the research, writing, and presentation of my thesis. this is a challenging question...
the block the south block of main street between main and ainslie streets, cambridge ontario
this is frustrating...i'm going for a walk. another day has passed and still i am lost...and panicking.  today is mx reviews, and i haven't even got a title.
stoops, people, territory...
right and wrong - how people treat people
the haves and have-nots
the stoop
place, people
finding something to enjoy in this hole
i'd don't love galt, i have no interest in the hollow-core cities of ontario
i do love the bench-less parkette
i can't get a new yorker magazine without an hour or more on the bus
i wish i had a car
participant observer
small steps
battles with my boss over whether the locals have a right to life
a role
"can't we ship 'them' to an industrial park"
the right to community
the role of the other
the role of the other
eccentric - Diversity of opinion
Each person should have private information even if it's just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts.
rue ruse
  • sorrow: sadness associated with some wrong done or some disappointment; "he drank to drown his sorrows"; "he wrote a note expressing his regret"; "to his rue, the error cost him the game"
  • repent: feel remorse for; feel sorry for; be contrite about
  • (French) a street or road in France 
differentiate between the tactic and the problem
rue rue rule
"a family comedy of the 1950s, is perhaps more important for what it has come to represent than for what it actually was. In essence, the series was one of a slew of middle-class family sitcoms in which moms were moms, kids were kids, and fathers knew best. Today, many critics view it, at best, as high camp fun, and, at worst, as part of what critic David Marc once labeled the "Aryan melodramas" of the 1950s and 1960s."
hostility, power - remove the bench
separate beds - twin beds pushed together
the rule the rule subvert the rule
fuck on the ledge, now that there is no bench
fuck you
what is the difference between stop and yield, between a traffic light and a traffic circle?
distract/divert your puppy to an acceptable chew toy
an acceptable outlet
frustration! bully..."NO!"
sleep seep seep into sleep
when i cannot sleep i lose my patience.  when time is tight i lose my patience. i ooze my patience.
when and where and when and where...why do i care? 
even if it is just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts...
leave emotion out
do not imitate
leave emotion out? peer pressure, a need to belong...
a need to belong - the traditional goal of community building is to belong/exclude
community and wise crowd are two different things...
could a city work better as a wise crowd than as a community? yikes. 
what do we lose? empathy? forgiveness?
do we work better together than apart? or apart than together?  it depends on why we need to work.
back to belonging...i contradict my own goal when i push for a wise crowd? maybe maybe
agency v belonging
a new name
blank bank cloud fog panic 
an alibi name...a better alibi
i keep changing my alibi...pick a lie and stick with it
ha! ambivalence
so much of non-profit work is about belonging...back to belonging
back to the very first lie: non-profit v. for-profit (high density) housing
non-profit design is often focused on building in such a way that social misfits can become socially that their neighbours don't lose their patience
and now i look not for social integration but for an acceptance/acknowledgement of the value of the misfit
the outlier
the benefit of not belonging...the value to the collective of the misfit
the misfits
the confrontation 
i seek confrontation. my mom avoids it. poor mom, having me. lucky mom, having me. 
a name!  give me a name!
give me a name i will take a name
i wish for a name
i wish wish wish fish
have you the reader lost all patience yet? with my ramblings my indulgence with me?
community and crowd
come together, right now...
i want to tell you its ok not to belong, to live side by side and not know your neighbour
it is ok
it is good
community and crowd
stoop: community and crowd
stoop community crowd

Monday, April 13, 2009

on emergence and the wisdom of crowds

what is emergence? the billiard table: “Imagine a billiard table populated by semi-intelligent, motorized billiard balls that have been programmed to explore the space of the table and alter their movement patterns based on specific interactions with other balls. For the most part, the table is in permanent motion, with balls colliding constantly, switching directions and speed every second. Because they are motorized, they never slow down unless their rules instruct them to, and their programming enables them to take unexpected turns when they encounter other balls. Such a systems would define the most elemental forms of complex behavior: a system with multiple agents dynamically interacting in multiple ways, following local rule and oblivious to any higher level instructions. But it wouldn’t truly be considered emergent until those local interactions resulted in some kind of discernible macrobehavior. Say the local rules of behavior followed by the balls ended up dividing the tables into two clusters of even-numbered and odd-numbered balls. That would mark the beginnings of emergence, a higher-level pattern arising out of parallel complex interactions between local agents. The balls aren’t programmed explicitly to cluster in two groups; they’ve programmed to follow much more random rules: swerve left when they collide with a solidcoloured; accelerate after contact with the three ball; stop dead in their tracks when they hit the eight ball; and so on. Yet out of those low-level routines, a coherent shape emerges. Does that make our mechanized billiard table adaptive? Not really, because a table divided between two clusters of balls is not terribly useful, either to the billiard balls themselves or to anyone else in the pool hall. But like the proverbial Hamlet-writing monkeys, if we had an infinite number of tables in our pool hall, each following a different set of rules, one of those tables might randomly hit upon a rule set that would arrange all the balls in a perfect triangle, leaving the cue ball across the table ready for the break. That would be adaptive behavior in the larger ecosystem of the pool hall, assuming that it was in the best interest of our billiards system to attract players. The system would use local rules between interacting agents to create higher-level behavior well suited to its environment. Emergent complexity without adaptation is like the intricate crystals formed by a snowflake; itʼs a beautiful pattern, but it has no function....emergent behavior...growing smarter over time, and of responding to the specific and changing needs of their environment. In that sense, most of the systems weʼll look at are more dynamic than our adaptive billiards table: they rarely settle in on a single frozen shape; they form patterns in time as well as space. A better example might be a table self-organizes into a billiards-based timing device: with the cue ball bouncing off the eight ball sixty times a minute, and the remaining balls shifting from one side of the table to another every hour on the hour. That might sound like an unlikely system to emerge out of local interactions between individual balls, but your body contains numerous organic clocks built out of simple cells that function in remarkably similar ways. An infinite number of cellular or billiard-ball configurations will not produce a working clock, and only a tiny number will. So the question becomes, how do you push your emergent system toward clocklike behavior, if thatʼs your goal? How do you make a self-organizing system more adaptive? That question has become particularly crucial, because the history of emergence has entered a new phase in the past few years, one that should prove to be more revolutionary than the two phases before it. In the first phase, inquiring minds struggled to understand the forces of self-organization without realizing what they were up against. In the second, certain sectors of the scientific community began to see self-organization as a problem that transcended local disciplines and set out to solve that problem, partially by comparing behavior in one area to behavior in another... But in the third phase - the one that began sometime in the past decade... - we stopped analyzing emergence and started creating it. We began building self-organizing systems into our software applications, our video games, our art, our music. We built emergent systems to recommend new books, recognize our voices, or find mates. For as long as complex organisms have been alive, they have lived under the laws of self-organization, but in recent years our day-to-day life has become overrun with artificial emergence: systems built with a conscious understanding of what emergence is, systems designed to exploit those laws the same way our nuclear reactors exploit the laws of atomic physics. Up to now, the philosophers of emergence have struggled to interpret the world. But they are now starting to change it.” (Johnson, Steven. 2002. Emergence : The connected lives of ants, brains, cities, and software. 1st Touchstone ed ed. New York ; Toronto: Touchstone. p. 18-20) how can an emergent system be pushed towards adaptive emergence? More is different. This slogan of complexity theory actually has two meanings that are relevant to our ant colonies. First, the statistical nature of ant interaction demands that there be a critical mass of ants for the colony to make intelligent assessments of its global state. Ten ants roaming across the desert floor will not be able to accurately judge the overall need for the foragers or nest-builders, but two thousand will do the job admirably. “More is different” also applies to the distinction between micromotives and macrobehavior: individual ants donʼt “know” that theyʼre prioritizing pathways between different food sources when they lay down a pheromone gradient near a pile of nutritious seeds. In fact, if we only studied individual ants in isolation, weʼd have no way of knowing that those chemical secretions were part of an overall effort to create a mass distribution line, carrying comparatively huge quantities of food back to the nest. Itʼs only by observing the entire system at work that the global behavior becomes apparent. Ignorance is useful. The simplicity of the ant language - and the relative stupidity of the individual ants - is, as the computer programmers say, a feature not a bug. Emergent systems can grow unwieldy when their component parts become excessively complicated. Better to build a densely interconnected system with simple elements, and let more sophisticated behavior trickle up. (Thatʼs the reason why computer chip traffic in the streamlined language of zeroes and ones.) Having individual agents capable of directly assessing the overall state of the system can be a real liability in swarm logic, for the same reason you donʼt want one of the neurons in your brain to suddenly become sentient. Encourage random encounters. Decentralized systems such as ant colonies rely heavily on the random interactions of ants exploring a given space without any predefined orders. Their encounters with other ants are individually arbitrary, but because there are so many individuals in the system, those encounters eventually allow the individuals to gauge and alter the macrostate of the system itself. Without those haphazard encounters, the colony wouldnʼt be capable of stumbling across new food sources or of adapting to new environmental conditions. Look for patterns in the signs. While the ants donʼt need an extensive vocabulary and are incapable of syntactical formulations, they do rely heavily on patterns in the semiochemicals they detect. A gradient in a pheromone trail leads them towards a food source, while encountering a high ratio of nest-builders to foragers encourages them to switch tasks. This knack for the pattern detection allows meta-information to circulate through the colony mind: signs about signs. Smelling the pheromones of fifty foragers in the space of an hour imparts information about the global state of the colony. Pay attention to your neighbors. This may well be the most important lesson that the ants have to give us, and the one with the most far-reaching consequences. You can restate it as “Local information can lead to global wisdom.” The primary mechanism of swarm logic is the interaction between neighboring ants on the field: ants stumbling across each other, or each otherʼs pheromone trails, while patrolling the area around the nest. Adding ants to the overall system will generate more interactions between neighbors and will consequently enable the colony itself to solve problems and regulate itself more effectively. Without neighboring ants stumbling across one another, colonies would be just a senseless assemblage of individuals organisms - a swarm without logic.” (Johnson, Steven. 2002. Emergence : The connected lives of ants, brains, cities, and software. 1st Touchstone ed ed. New York ; Toronto: Touchstone. p. 78)

"Not all crowds (groups) are wise. Consider, for example, mobs or crazed investors in a stock market bubble....According to Surowiecki, these key criteria separate wise crowds from irrational ones:

Diversity of opinion
Each person should have private information even if it's just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts.
People's opinions aren't determined by the opinions of those around them.
People are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.
Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision."
(wikipedia, april 13, 2009, 9:24pm)

how can it go wrong? "Surowiecki studies situations (such as rational bubbles) in which the crowd produces very bad judgment, and argues that in these types of situations their cognition or cooperation failed because (in one way or another) the members of the crowd were too conscious of the opinions of others and began to emulate each other and conform rather than think differently. Although he gives experimental details of crowds collectively swayed by a persuasive speaker, he says that the main reason that groups of people intellectually conform is that the system for making decisions has a systematic flaw. Surowiecki asserts that what happens when the decision-making environment is not set up to accept the crowd, is that the benefits of individual judgments and private information are lost and that the crowd can only do as well as its smartest member, rather than perform better (as he shows is otherwise possible). Detailed case histories of such failures include:
Too homogeneous
Surowiecki stresses the need for diversity within a crowd to ensure enough variance in approach, thought process, and private information.
Too centralized
The Columbia shuttle disaster, which he blames on a hierarchical NASA management bureaucracy that was totally closed to the wisdom of low-level engineers.
Too divided
The US Intelligence community, the 9/11 Commission Report claims, failed to prevent the 11 September 2001 attacks partly because information held by one subdivision was not accessible by another. Surowiecki's argument is that crowds (of intelligence analysts in this case) work best when they choose for themselves what to work on and what information they need. (He cites the SARS-virus isolation as an example in which the free flow of data enabled laboratories around the world to coordinate research without a central point of control.)
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA have created a Wikipedia style information sharing network called Intellipedia that will help the free flow of information to prevent such failures again.
Too imitative
Where choices are visible and made in sequence, an "information cascade"[2] can form in which only the first few decision makers gain anything by contemplating the choices available: once past decisions have become sufficiently informative, it pays for later decision makers to simply copy those around them. This can lead to fragile social outcomes.
Too emotional
Emotional factors, such as a feeling of belonging, can lead to peer pressure, herd instinct, and in extreme cases collective hysteria." (wikipedia, april 13, 2009, 9:24pm)
what can/can't crowds do? "Crowds are best when there's a right answer to a problem or a question. (I call these "cognition" problems.) If you have, for instance, a factual question, the best way to get a consistently good answer is to ask a group. They're also surprisingly good, though, at solving other kinds of problems. For instance, in smart crowds, people cooperate and work together even when it's more rational for them to let others do the work. And in smart crowds, people are also able to coordinate their behavior—for instance, buyers and sellers are able to find each other and trade at a reasonable price—without anyone being in charge. Groups aren't good at what you might call problems of skill—for instance, don't ask a group to perform surgery or fly a plane."(the widsom of crowds, april 13, 9:52 pm) what i think: can architecture help the group of building users follow these rules? more is different / a diversity of opinion ignorance is useful / independence look for patterns in the signs pay attention to your neighbours or aggregation decentralization NOT too homogeneous NOT too centralized NOT too divided NOT too imitative NOT too emotional and why should it? to solve cognitive problems to coordinate behavior NOT to solve a problem of skill is this my thesis? please say it is my only wish is for a thesis...a thesis...a thesis...

what was once my plan

  • A close reading of a site for the purposes of collecting data and testing ideas
  • Place my thesis within a history of thinking about the individual person as a member of the collective human race
  • Discuss emergence as a phenomenon
  • Survey contemporary architectural responses to the theory of emergence
  • Analyze a selection of architectural languages proposed since WWII and propose a new or hybrid language for describing architecture (architectural elements) within an emergent system
  • Develop an architectural intervention which facilitates (artificial) adaptive emergent intelligence in the community of users of my selected site

Sunday, April 12, 2009

cognitive v. executive

according to don i need to (eventually) work out whether my thesis is cognitive or executive cognitive:
  • an argument or the logical outcome
  • facts are facts, what do you do with them?
  • start with a theory
  • who else uses this system? it is scientific: geographers, physicists, other scientists
  • caution: this type of argument is warped by being inside it
  • there can be an issue with what you want as opposed to what you get (think: creationism)
  • an act
  • do what you want to do, facts are variable
  • start with a problem
  • trying to do both is very difficult - but may be possible using an editorial position
"The editorial page of a newspaper is an opinion on any certain topic. Articles appearing on a newspaper's editorial pages represent the views of the newspaper's editor and/or it's editorial board." (wikipedia, april 12, 2009, 10:01 pm)
i'm straddling the line, at the moment: i have a problem - which is wishing to increase the agency of the have-not residents of galt. i have a theory - that the collective intelligence of a group of people can be enhanced by architecture (i have some hunches as to how). i also have some ideas about robert venturi's work as a starting point for thinking about architecture as emergent, rather than top-down (executive?). i think my problem came from a desire to find an application for my interest in theory so... if i have to pick a side: i'm going with cognitive, for now. of course that raises another issue: if what i am doing is watching, acting as participant-observer, then i am by definition in the middle of this work, which, as noted above, risks warping the argument. hmmm...

some things to think about re:thesis

conceptual model: provide a good conceptual model which allows us to predict the effects of our actions (to understand the relationship between controls and outcome) - "make things visible" expert system: a program that can reason through a complex situation natural mappings: take advantage of physical analogies and cultural standards

are architecture students up to the task?

the monocle's weekly podcast (episode 16) has a great interview with ilse crawford on the quality of recent graduates from design and architecture schools. she speaks starting at around 33 minutes until the end of the podcast. there is apparently an associated print article, but i haven't had any luck locating it yet.
"there is a fundamental problem with the way that many perceive design - it's not funny shape-ism. it's about giving form, framing the way that we a way that gives greater meaning, greater depth, that shapes the way we behave, that shapes the way we interact, that changes our values around our experience..." -ilse crawford

a conversation with mark tovey

carleton university PhD candidate mark tovey came to the school march 6, 2009 as a lecturer during the living large colloquium hosted by the 3a studio. his presentation, titled "many minds make might work: open source, mass collaboration, and social innovation", asked the audience to "look for areas to open up" proposing open-source architectural design as an addition to a whole slew of existing mass collaboration and open-source initiatives. i wonder if there is a possible role within the "application" part of my thesis for the concept of open-source architectural design? two possibilites occurred to me: 1. a brief business or project coordination proposal for the application of open-source architectural design, or 2. a projection into the future of an open-source-design-bsed architecture profession. after mark's talk i sat down with him to pick his are my notes on our conversation: the wisdom of crowds: what is the mechanism of the "wisdom of crowds"? (in sociology a mechanism is a set of rules designed to bring about a certain outcome) social movement laboratory: (derek lomas - UCSD) the social movement laboratory's social architectures course asks: how does the design of an architectural space affect social dynamics? can art stimulate social engagement and social movement? students in the course designed a mobile video tower with a 170˚ field of view for the recording of crowd movement, proposed social aggregators in order to activate social spaces, among other projects. also, through the social architectures website i learned about "the social life of small urban spaces" video and book. (a 1980s study of the plazas of new york) how do you navigate 3d environments: (david kirsh - distributed cognition) this is a paper on human-computer interaction...i haven't read it yet, but here are a couple of excerpts from the summary which i found interesting:
"design and support human computer interaction...understanding interactions between people and technologies" "whole environments: what we really do in them and how we coordinate our activity in them"
"a genre of writing that uses fieldwork to provide a descriptive study of human societies" (wikipedia, april 12, 2009, 5:12 pm)
*"a system's properties cannot necessarily be accurately understood independantly of each other" (dr. michelle addington, from arriscraft lecture during living large colloquium)
a vocabulary: 1. distributed cognition (david kirsh, ed hutchins): think about a navy ship as a cognitive system - no one person knows everything that needs to happen to dock a navy ship, but it happens. 2. situated action: ski -> tree -> avoid (no plan required) 3. ecological cognition (j.j. gibson, donald a. norman): affordances - the properties of an object afford actions (i'm currently reading "the psychology of everyday things" by donald a. norman) the oracle of delphi and affinity diagrams: mark suggested this as a method of drawing out "rules" 1. ask a question to a group and have each person write out an answer on a post-it 2. group similar answers according to semantic domains 3. summarize each group to one paragraph/post-it 4. group... 5. summarize... 6. repeat until only one post-it is left a method for feedback: the orbs from UCSD are a set of simple lamps which are set to glow or dim in response to the number of occupants/power levels/etc. in the building. the simple act of feeding back information to building occupants gives them the opportunity to respond by going for a walk to see who is around/turning off a light/etc. *(i couldn't find a reference for this...though i did plug "orb feedback building occupants" into google and found several articles on energy conservation and "using feedback to influence occupants"). a method of collaboration: barcamp
"BarCamp is an international network of user generated conferences — open, participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants. The first BarCamps focused on early-stage web applications, and related open source technologies, social protocols, and open data formats. The format has also been used for a variety of other topics, including public transit, health care, and political organizing." (wikipedia, april 12, 2009, 8:57 pm)
a method of classification: the music genome project (see my soundtrack post) this method of classification (analysis of attributes/expert classification) is in contrast to a preference-based system such as iTune's genius function. pandora (which is only available in the u.s. at the moment) uses 30 musical analysts who analyze 400 distinct musical attributes, described by mark as the "primary colours" of music, with which they classify music - the goal is to expose a listener to music from a wide range of styles which have similar attributes to the user's stated preferences. an example of the attributes analyzed: the voice has 30 attributes - bravado, range, ornamentation, pitch, tamber... *i just found the pandora blog - curious that they have recently added more weight to user feedback to correct faults in the "genome" system... a (very important) question: ***can space respond differently to different people at the same time?*** (thanks mark...that's a brilliant question!) thalience: from sci-fi writer karl schroeder - entities are considered "thalient" if they succeed in developing their own categories for understanding the world. could architecture become thalient???

Saturday, April 11, 2009

a conversation with dr. rupert soar

dr. rupert soar came to the school march 6, 2009 as an arriscraft lecturer during the living large colloquium hosted by the 3a studio. he presented a fantastic lecture on some of his recent work with the rapid manufacturing research group and project TERMES - the latter generated the most interest within the school, i think, because of its potential to revolutionize HVAC systems. (also, the termite mound casts are beautiful!) (very) basically: termite mounds are tuned to resonate with turbulent air movement in order to exchange heat energy and O2/CO2. not only are these structures tuned to turbulent air movement as opposed to prevailing winds (a constant as opposed to variable phenomenon), they exchange gasses and heat energy use the same three phase "gas exchange mode" as our own respiratory system. during the q&a after his lecture dr. soar mentioned very briefly that he was working with agent-based modeling, so i approached him later that day to pick his brain. he was very patient with my questions and incredibly generous with his time. agent based modeling: the agent-based modeling he mentioned is a part of an Army Research Organization funded development of nano-robots to construct shelters in warzones. the basic principles of the project are: continuous construction (construction that extends into maintenance), containment (a nano-robot 'dies' when it leaves the structure), and natural selection (a system must 'die' if it not fit). this system is inspired by and draws from the project TERMES research. the termite nest: a termite nest is an emergent system - "emergence: complex systems and patterns (which) arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions" (wikipedia, april 12, 2009). there are are only seven or eight "rules" which form this complex system: 1. random walk (no stimulus = walk) 2. response to local pheromone (#1) field: pick up material 3. response to decaying pheromone (#1) in local pheromone field: deposit material 4. response to local pheromone (#2) field: remove material 5. response to decaying pheromone (#2) in local pheromone field: deposit material (pheromone #2 is present in and drives the form of the "root ball") the result of rules 4 and 5 is that a balance in pheromone intensity = balance in O2/CO2 exchange whereas an imbalance in pheromone intensity = construction/deconstruction the nest until the nest is in tune. the mali mud mosque - deconstructing the concept of longevity: longevity: the mosque is trampelled down by the community and rebuilt yearly - if one were to ask the age of the mosque, the locals would answer "2500 years" - the umber of years the community has been celebrating this ritual. learning from termites: cooling cups on the roof of the mosque mimic the function of the structure of termite mounds found within the vicinity of this tribe. continuous construction: construction extends into maintenance. emergent form and material: (i'm a little fuzzy on the details of this argument...but i was intrigued by it so i have included the parts that i can remember here...) architectural style: gothic v. classical. the architectural style of the gothic era was that of a single material (stone) used in many forms (eg. the cathedral: stone as structure, finish, enclosure...). in contrast, during the classical period, form was defined by the material used. dr. soar suggested that the use of a single versatile material like stone (gothic) or gypsum (contemporary) is necessary in order to build an emergent structure. (termites, ants, etc. use soil).


i know i said i'd talk about emergence and agent-based modeling next, but last night it occurred to me that there is something much more important to discuss - what i see as the heart of my thesis: the concept of agency. from wikipedia: Human agency

Human agency is the capacity for human beings to make choices and to impose those choices on the world. It is normally contrasted to natural forces, which are causes involving only unthinking deterministic processes. In this respect, agency is subtly distinct from the concept of free will, the philosophical doctrine that our choices are not the product of causal chains, but are significantly free or undetermined. Human agency entails the uncontroversial, weaker claim that humans do in fact make decisions and enact them on the world. How humans come to make decisions, by free choice or other processes, is another issue.


In philosophy

In certain philosophical traditions (particularly those established by Hegel and Marx), human agency is a collective, historical dynamic, rather than a function arising out of individual behavior. Hegel's Geist and Marx's universal class are idealist and materialist expressions of this idea of humans treated as social beings, organized to act in concert.

what i think: a sense of agency is fundamental to an individual's ability to participate in the world around them. i see a lack of a perception of personal agency on the part of a significant portion of galt's population... i feel like i am wading in to dangerous territory i will try to tread carefully... around the block of buildings that i am studying, there are often confrontations between the haves and the have-nots. there is a not-so-subtle belief on the part of the haves that the have-nots have no place in the city, that they drag it down and that life here would be better if the have-nots were somehow eliminated from the downtown. reading the wisdom of crowds gave me scientific evidence that everyone has a piece of "the puzzle" and that collectively a diverse group of people can come up with a more accurate answer to a particular question than the most expert person among them. perhaps i reach too far when i make the next assumption (i know for a fact that there are people within this school who think so!): that this phenomenon of collective intelligence extends beyond the ability of a group to correctly guess the number of jellybeans in a jellybean jar to - solve isn't the right word - to negotiate much more complex issues. i suppose that i am arguing fundamentally for the intrinsic value of all human beings to the human race as a whole. not so much because it is morally correct, but because it is scientifically proven. and because i believe that if we can tap into this collective intelligence, if we can act to enhance its mysterious inner-workings we can...i don't want to say "make the world a better place" because i don't think i actually believe would likely change the human race in a pretty fundamental could be an evolutionary leap for human would offer insight into humanity as a whole...mostly, though, it would increase the agency of the non-expert individual (and maybe bring the "experts" down a notch or two).

a glossary

Complex behavior: a system with multiple agents dynamically interacting in multiple ways, following local rule and oblivious to any higher level instructions (Johnson, Steven. 2002. Emergence : The connected lives of ants, brains, cities, and software. 1st Touchstone ed. New York. p.18). Emergent behavior: a higher-level pattern arising out of parallel complex interactions between local agents (Johnson, Steven. 2002. Emergence : The connected lives of ants, brains, cities, and software. 1st Touchstone ed. New York. p.19). Adaptive emergent behavior: the system would use local rules between interacting agents to create higher-level behavior well suited to its environment (Johnson, Steven. 2002. Emergence : The connected lives of ants, brains, cities, and software. 1st Touchstone ed ed. New York ; Toronto: Touchstone. p.19). Generative modeling: a shape is described by a sequence of processing steps, rather than just the end result of applying these operations. Shape design becomes rule design ( Agent-based modeling: a computational model for simulating the actions and interactions of autonomous individuals in a network, with a view to assessing their effects on the system as a whole ( Semiology (also, Semiotics): the study of signs and symbols, especially as means of language or communication ( Agency: a philosophical concept of the capacity of an agent to act in a world (

Friday, April 10, 2009

StarLogo TNG

what is StarLogo TNG? from the website: "StarLogo TNG is The Next Generation of StarLogo modeling and simulation software. While this version holds true to the premise of StarLogo as a tool to create and understand simulations of complex systems, it also brings with it several advances. Through TNG we hope to:
  1. Lower the barrier to entry for programming with a graphical interface where language elements are represented by colored blocks that fit together like puzzle pieces.
  2. Entice more young people into programming through tools that facilitate making games.
  3. Use 3D graphics to make more compelling and rich games and simulation models."
and why does it interest me? is a relatively simple program for modeling complex and emergent systems using agent-based modeling. my first experiment is the epidemic model: i made a bunch of green balls which randomly "walk" around a space (in 3D, though they only move horizontally in this version). then i set loose a virus which "infects" some of the balls and turns them red. when a red ball bumps into a green ball, the green ball is "infected" and turns red. there is an immunity function which turns a certain percentage of balls blue - when these balls bump into red balls, they do not become infected. there is also a recovery function which allows a red ball to turn green again after a specified period of time. for all of these functions, i made sliders which can adjust the rate of recovery and the percentage of immune balls. once i populate the space with balls and set them "walking", i can play with these sliders and watch as the rate of infection in the population changes, too. sometimes the entire population is red (dead!) and sometimes there is a balance between infection, recovery, and immunity where most of the population is green with the odd red or blue ball. what does an epidemic model have to do with my thesis? its not so much the epidemic that interests me, of course, but the ability to model emergent systems in three dimensions - spatially. StarLogo has the ability to give any entity modeled a set of rules which it applies independantly in reaction to input received during the execution of the program. there are two ways which i could use this software: first, i can create an architecture (modeling the block of buildings i'm watching) within which i set loose a set of agents (people modeled after the the users of the building). the goal will be to first produce a system which simulates reality - people reacting to one another and to the architecture in a way which is "normal" based on my observations and research. (there's a pretty serious issue regarding the complexity of human beings which i need to address here.) next i'd like to play with the system - tweaking the architecture to see if i can enhance the characteristics of adaptive emergent systems within the group of building users. second, i can try to simulate the emergence of the vernacular form. i'll argue that architecture is modified over time in much the same way as a termite nest or ant hill is formed - people modify a building based on a set of rules, which in turn modifies the nature of the group using the building. the bullshit is setting in, so i'll stop now. my next few posts will discuss the phenomenon of emergence, the method of agent-based modeling, and what other people are doing in architecture/emergence.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


i'm interested in the use of the stoops in along the back of the south block of main street, between water and ainslie streets in cambridge ontario. i'm interested because these stoops are some of the best occupied spaces in cambridge, in summer at least and because they are used by people from all walks of life: tourists, lawyers, drug dealers, business people, students, restaurant staff, low-income residents, store proprietors... this mixing can cause cause tension - territories are trespassed upon, noses are turned up, curses are hurled into the street, bats are waved threateningly, the police are called. so i've been watching...everyday i pass by the stoops at least twice, four times, six times. sometime with my dogs, sometimes on the way to school, or to work at a restaurant within this block. i am more than watching: i eat and drink, i buy smokes and sandwiches, i work, i visit friends, i linger. and i record. here are a couple of my videos sped up 1000%: 08.11.12 (from north side of ainslie) 09.04.02 (from south side of parking lot) 09.04.02 (zoomed into stoop - speed: 500%)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


so i made a soundtrack and then thought: i should have done this with "genius". so i did. genius is a new feature on iTunes which creates a playlist of songs drawn from your iTunes library based on the first song you choose and the preferences of other iTunes users who have included that song in their playlists. so you all will receive two disks: one with "my" playlist and one with "genius'" playlist this is my playlist: 
i haven't written out the "genius" playlists for you since "genius" changes the list every time you press refresh: the list is fluid and changing based on an internal randomize command, i suspect, as well as my changing iTunes library and "genius'" ongoing collection of data. i was disappointed with the refresh button because it challenged the genius of "genius" to come up with the best playlist for me. is it evasive to say "we'll come up with something you'll likely like - if you don't, try again"? there's a wonderful give and take with this system - the image that comes to mind is some sort of expanding bubbling blob with pustules forming and exploding is some sort of primordial way. i wonder if it will stagnate at some point...if "genius" will decide it is done? there's nothing else to morph and change, there are no more songs to add, no more preferences to record...the perfect list has evolved out of the muck. stuart kauffman has a lot to say about the evolution of species and the role of difference and sameness and the affordance of mutations. here's a link to a recent lecture by Kauffman at the waterloo applied complexity and innovation seminar.
"Stuart Alan A. Kauffman (28 September 1939) is an American theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher concerning the origin of life on Earth. He is best known for arguing that the complexity of biological systems and organisms might result as much from self-organization and far-from-equilibrium dynamics as from Darwinian natural selection, as well as for proposing the first models of Boolean networks." (wikipedia april 8, 2009, 1:37 pm) so "genius", like google (or more specifically, the google algorithm) among other systems for organizing information, is a largely a preference-based system. that means that it proposes to me a number of solutions based on the actions of other users of the system and then records my actions to add to its database of preferences. in theory this is a collective ranking which should tap the "wisdom of crowds" to provide the most precise answer to my query at that moment (since the data is always being updated, the best answer will change continuously). pandora on the other hand, uses an in-depth analysis and algorithmic interpretation of the music to find commonalities in a diverse range of songs. those commonalities are used to create a playlist for the user based on a song they choose, much like genius. the difference is: specialists, or experts analyzed the music and the playlist is the result of their expertise rather than the wisdom of the crowd of users of the system. it is created by the music genome project: "The Music Genome Project, created in January 2000, is an effort founded by Will Glaser, Jon Kraft, and Tim Westergren to "capture the essence of music at the fundamental level" using over 400 attributes to describe songs and a complex mathematical algorithm to organize them." (wikipedia, april 8, 2009, 1:52 pm)