Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Moral Judgement v. Social Breach

Thought du jour
I step over to his table and give him a medium hello, and he looks up and gives me a medium hello right back, for, to tell the truth, Maury and I are never bosom friends.
– Damon Runyon

From today's Social Studies (Globe and Mail):

Our inappropriate age

“No words are more typical of our moral culture than ‘inappropriate' and ‘unacceptable,'” Edward Skidelsky writes for Prospect magazine. “They seem bland, gentle even, yet they carry the full force of official power. When you hear them, you feel that you are being tied up with little pieces of soft string. Inappropriate and unacceptable began their modern careers in the 1980s as part of the jargon of political correctness. They have more or less replaced a number of older, more exact terms: coarse, tactless, vulgar, lewd. They encompass most of what would formerly have been called ‘improper' or ‘indecent.' An affair between a teacher and a pupil that was once improper is now inappropriate; a once indecent joke is now unacceptable. This linguistic shift is revealing. Improper and indecent express moral judgments, whereas inappropriate and unacceptable suggest breaches of some purely social or professional convention. … Calling your action indecent appeals to you as a human being; calling it inappropriate asserts official power.”

Nixie Tubes!

More about the "ArduiNIX" here

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Sketch

A sketch of possible path towards the completion of Contemporary Discourses essay "Finding Social Form": Building as complex system Role of surface Emergent material methodologies Evolutionary design: what is the role of the occupant in complex system? Design intent: capitalize on collective intelligence of occupants Bodies in space: architecture of path Define spatial-social patterns of occupation (structures in space and time) What is form/surface after design evolved incorporating spatial-social force of occupant-collective? AND materiality? Omar Khan: CO2 responsive installation and persuasive computing at Stanford. Contemplating the relationship between emergent formal properties of the material surface and (spatial-social occupation?) Sentient architecture (imagining an architecture with both a physical ability to sense and the ability to process sensations (the ability to feel) and respond)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Finding Social Form? (in progress)

(A Declaration of Our Contemporary Cultural Condition)
“Just like the clock maker metaphors of the Enlightenment, or the dialectical logic of the nineteenth century, the emergent worldview belongs to this moment in time, shaping our thought habits and coloring our perception of the world.”[1]  (Steven Johnson, Emergence)
In the opening of “Surfaces of Self-Organization[2] contemporary architectural theorist Michael Weinstock presents a brief history of architectural paradigms regarding surface and form.  Classically, surface was conceived of as an expression of the structural geometry of the construction.  Modernists imagined surface as separate from structure; it’s primary purpose to construct meaning through form.  (In the modern paradigm, the role of enclosing space or “keeping the weather out” is ancillary to that primary purpose.)  Recently, Weinstock reports, some architects have begun experimenting with self-forming processes paired with evolutionary design methods to find forms with inherent potential for self-organization during fabrication (Figure 1: p_wall[3]).  He argues that these experiments are a part of a shift in thinking about the anatomy of architecture whereby a building is imagined as a complex system, the form of which is the result of generative processes and determined by the material properties of the components and their patterns of assembly.  Surface, in this new paradigm, is that part of the complex system through which energy, materials, and information are exchanged with the surrounding environment.  “This new potential for architectural surfaces is predicated on a parallel interest in territory - territory on which spaces flow into one another, and on which connectivity and integration are enhanced.  The experience of these surface territories and spaces is at once private and public, interior and exterior - a manifestation of the contemporary cultural condition.”[4]

a process of attraction and repulsion in which the internal organization of a system, normally an open system, increases in complexity without being guided or managed by an outside source. self-organizing systems typically (but not always) display emergent properties.
complex system:
a system composed of interconnected parts that as a whole exhibit one or more properties (behavior being a possible property) not obvious from the properties of an individual part.
generative art (architecture):
art (architecture) that has been generated, composed, or constructed in an algorithmic manner through the use of systems defined by computer software algorithms, or similar mathematical or mechanical or randomised autonomous processes.

(by Andrew Kudless)
from top to bottom, left to right: 
1_initial pattern 
2_array of points (density correlated to greyscale value) 
3_panel distribution 
4_dowels to restrain fabric located at points from step 2 
5_plaster poured into elasticated fabric mould 
6_final surface form
Defining Emergence:
Complex behavior: a system with multiple agents dynamically interacting in multiple ways, following local rule and oblivious to any higher level instructions.[5]

Emergent behavior: a higher-level pattern arising out of parallel complex interactions between local agents.[6]

Adaptive emergent behavior: the system would use local rules between interacting agents to create higher-level behavior well suited to its environment.[7]

Adaptive Emergent Architecture: ‘Emergence’ is the scientific mode in which natural systems can be explored and explained in a contemporary context.  It provides ‘models and processes for the creation of artificial systems that are designed to produce forms and complex behavior, and perhaps even real intelligence.’[8]

(Another Declaration of Our Contemporary Cultural Condition)
“Perhaps, while we wish for more efficient, predictable systems where success is guaranteed, what we will get is an understanding of the benefit of a bit of chaos in the systems and the roll it plays in ‘progress.’”[9] (Steven Johnson, Emergence)

Self-Organization: The Biological Model
Experiments in self-forming processes emanate primarily from zoologist and mathematician D’arcy Thompson’s 1917 text On Growth and Form[10] in which he speculated than the form of biological organisms is influenced by physical laws and mechanics as much as (or more than) than by Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory.  Thompson identified similarity in the form of jellyfish and that of drops of liquid falling into a viscous fluid, for example, and in the form of the hollow bones of birds and engineering truss designs. (Around the same time as Thompson’s writings, early 20th century architect Antoni Gaudi was experimenting with catenary chain models to define the form of his Church of the Sagrada Familia.) Today, at least in part because of Thompson’s observations, biological organisms are understood as self-organizing systems: natural systems which organize material in space, over time, and under the load of gravity through the interactions of many simple components (such as sand grains, water molecules, and living cells) - a process known as morphogenesis.  It is the differences in the patterns of assembly of these simple components which result in differences in the form and performance of the organism (or system)[11]. (Siegfried Gaß, a student of Frei Otto, published an extensive analysis of typical forms resulting from self-forming processes in Form Force Mass 5: Experiments published in Institut für Leichte Flächentragwerke (IL) 25.  Of particular relevance to this paper is the section on structures in space and time - see structures in space and time[12]). Extending this model to the design of buildings shifts the Modernist paradigm of form “rationalized for realization and superimposed functions” to a new paradigm where form is derived from the capacities of materials and constructs.[13]

To derive form in this model, a process of differentiation is necessary: the process of solving the (biological or architectural) system for multiple variables, broadly defined by Achim Menges, architect and studio master for the Emergent Technologies program at the Architectural Association in London, as ecology, topography, and structure.[14]

the biological process that causes an organism to develop its shape.
the part of the universe that is being studied, while the environment is the remainder of the universe that lies outside the boundaries of the system. Depending on the type of system, it may interact with the environment by exchanging mass, energy (including heat and work), linear momentum, angular momentum, electric charge, or other conserved properties. In some disciplines, such as Information theory, information may also be exchanged. The environment is ignored in analysis of the system, except in regards to these interactions.
all the relationships between human groups and their physical and social environments.
the connections between all the material elements in an environment.
organizational capabilities above and beyond load bearing.
(Achim  Menges. 2006. “Morphoecologies,” AD 76, No2, p.73)
structures in space and time
(Siegfried Gaß)
Structures in space and time have typical phenotypes, depending on whether energy or matter is transported in space by the local motion of the particles. 
Waves produce periodically recurring motions which transport energy as a function of time (left, from top, images 1 and 2).
If material particles are transported in space, motions of rotation are produced in an enclosed space which form vortexes.
Further characteristic families of forms are ring vortexes (left, image 3),  Bénard cells (right, from top, image 4), helical vortexes (right, image 5), and vortex streets (right, image 6).

Defining Differentiation:
Calculus: the study of change, in the same way that geometry is the study of shape and algebra is the study of equations.15
Derivative: in calculus ... the derivative is a measure of how a function changes as its input changes. Loosely speaking, a derivative can be thought of as how much a quantity is changing at a given point. For example, the derivative of the position (or distance) of a vehicle with respect to time is the instantaneous velocity (respectively, instantaneous speed) at which the vehicle is traveling. Conversely, the integral of the velocity over time is the vehicle's position.16 

Differentiate: to obtain the mathematical derivative of.17
Differentiate: development from the one to the many, the simple to the complex, or the homogeneous to the heterogeneous.18
Differentiate: modification of body parts for performance of particular functions (the sum of the processes whereby apparently indifferent or unspecialized cells, tissues, and structures attain their adult form and function).19 
Differential Equation: a mathematical equation for an unknown function of one or several variables that relates the values of the function itself and its derivatives of various orders. Differential equations play a prominent role in engineering, physics, economics and other disciplines.20

The Mathematical Model...
D’Arcy Thompson first applied mathematics to biological form to quantify his theory of morphogenesis.  This conceptual leap paralleled mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead’s theory which argues that “organisms are bundles of relationships that maintain themselves by adjusting their own behavior in anticipation of changes to the patterns of activity all around them.”21 From these two theories (collectively arguing that form and behavior emerge from process)22 has emerged a rich discourse in mathematical and computational models for complex systems including cybernetics (Norman Weiner), geometrical phyllotaxis and the attraction-diffusion model (Alan Turing), systems theory, complexity theory, genetic algorithms (John H. Holland), and most recently, mathematical simulations of genes acting in Boolean networks (Stuart Kauffman - see boolean networks23).24

organises the mathematics of responsive behavior into a general theory of how machines , organisms and phenomena maintain themselves over time.  It uses digital and numerical processes in which pieces of information interact and the transmission of information is optimized. Feedback is understood as a kind of ‘steering’ device that regulates behavior, using information from the environment to measure the actual performance against a desired or optimal performance.
a hypothesis of the generation of a pattern from a smooth sheet of cells during development in the formation of buds, skin markings and limbs.  Chemicals accumulate until sufficient density is reached, then act as morphogens to generate organs.
systems theory:
the concepts and principles of organization in natural systems are independent of the domain of any one particular system.
complexity theory:
focuses on effects produced by the collective behavior of many simple units that interact with each other, such as atoms, molecules and cells.
genetic algorithms:
initiate and maintain a population of computational individuals, each of which has a genotype and a phenotype.  Sexual reproduction is simulated by random selection of two individuals to provide ‘parents’ from which ‘offspring’ are produced. By using...random allocation of genes from the parents’ genotype and mutation, varied offspring are generated until they fill the population....  The process is iterated for as many generations as are required to produce a population that has among it a range of suitable individuals to satisfy the fitness criteria.
(Achim  Menges. 2006. “Morphogenesis and the Mathematics of Emergence” AD 76, No2, p.11-15)
boolean network:
a set of boolean variables (a primitive data type having one of two values: true or false) whose state is determined by other variables in the network (through comparison operators: >, ≠, AND, &, *, OR, |, +, EQV, =, ==, XOR, NEQV, ^, NOT, ~, !). elementary cellular automata are particular cases of boolean networks, where the state of a variable is determined by its spatial neighbors.
boolean networks
(Stuart Kauffman)
boolean networks with low connectivity or with certain biases in boolean switching rules exhibit unexpected, spontaneous collective order.
sites within a network can affect one another's behavior: nearby sites communicate frequently via many small avalanches of damage; distant sites communicate less often through rare large avalanches.
networks on the boundary between order and chaos may have the flexibility to adapt rapidly and successfully through the accumulation of useful variations. applied to Architecture
These mathematical and computational models (all based on calculus, the mathematical study of change) have so far found their way into built architecture through topological surfaces functions in CAD software (which are so prolific they appear as the sandbox tools in the free and popular Google SketchUp software), time-and-force modeling attributes in animation software and parameter-based modeling.25 Architectural research and experimental design is attempting to instrumentalize the most recent mathematical advances primarily through investigations into phylogenesis, morphogenetic design techniques, and material emergence/performance.

Phylogenesis is the development of an evolutionary history of architecture within a practice, morphogenetic design is the integration of ecological, topological and structural performances using generative design strategies and material emergence is the exploration of forms with inherent potential for self-organizationduring fabrication.

Architects working within these discourses are beginning to tackle how architecture can best absorb a shift in thinking actualized by our contemporary cultural condition; the shift from top-down to bottom-up.

These three approaches differ principally in their application to architecture: morpho-ecologies are formal, structural and programmatic solutions to architectural problems, while phylogenesis is used to generate diagrams for architectural design, and material emergence develops the architect’s intuition for animate forms (Greg Lynn - see animate form26). In Animate Form, architectural theorist Greg Lynn argues that “even in the most scientific applications of computer simulations ... first an intuition must be developed in order to recognize the non-linear behavior of computer simulations.”27

a major area of mathematics concerned with spatial properties that are preserved under continuous deformations of objects (deformations that involve stretching, but no tearing or gluing).
triangulated irregular network (TIN):
a vector based representation of a surface, made up of irregularly distributed nodes and lines with three dimensional coordinates (x,y, and z) that are arranged in a network of non-overlapping triangles.
sandbox tool (google sketchup):
use the Sandbox From Contours tool to create a TIN from contour lines.
parametric modeling:
using the computer to design objects by modeling their components with real-world behaviors and attributes. A parametric modeler is aware of the characteristics of components and the interactions between them. It maintains consistent relationships between elements as the model is manipulated.
animate form:
animation is a term that differs from, but is often confused with, motion.  While motion implies movement and action, animation implies the evolution of a form and its shaping forces; it suggests animalism, animism, growth, actuation, vitality and virtuality.
(Greg Lynn. 1999. Animate form. Princeton Architectural Press. New York.)
animate form
(Greg Lynn)
“If there is a single concept that must be engaged due to the proliferation of topological shapes and computer-aided tools, it is that in their structure as abstract machines, these technologies are animate.”
a keyboard is an actual machine, it is technological therefore it is a concrete assemblage.
the distribution of letters on keys in space is an abstract machine, it is a virtual diagram designed to limit the speed of typing; no particular test word or sentence exists, and it applies to an indefinite series of existing and future words.
On Walking
Francesco Careri, Italian architect and member of the Stalker urban art workshop, writes at length about the history of walking as a form of architecture and as an aesthetic practice in Walkscapes, defining the path as the first architecture, a creation of nomadic world rather than the sedentary, settled world.  “The act of crossing space stems from the natural necessity to move to find the food and information required for survival.  But once these basic needs have been satisfied, walking takes on a symbolic form that has enabled man to dwell in the world.  By modifying the sense of the space crossed, walking becomes man’s first aesthetic act, penetrating the territories of chaos, constructing an order on which to develop the architecture of situated objects. ... This simple action has given rise to the most important relationships man has established with the land, the territory.”28

the behavior exhibited when a group of birds, called a flock, are foraging or in flight. There are parallels with the shoaling behavior of fish, or the swarming behavior of insects.
From the perceptive of the mathematical modeler, "flocking" is the collective motion of a large number of self-propelled entities and is a collective animal behavior exhibited by many living beings such as birds, fish, bacteria, and insects. It is considered an emergent behavior arising from simple rules that are followed by individuals and does not involve any central coordination.

“The term ‘path’ simultaneously indicates the act of crossing (the path as the action of crossing), the line that crosses the space (the path as architectural object) and the table of the space crossed (the path as narrative structure). ... In this century the rediscovery of the path happened first inliterature (Tristan Tzara, Andre Bréton, and Guy Debord are writers), then in sculpture (Carl Andre, Richard Long, and Robert Smithson are sculptors), while in the field of architecture the path has led to the pursuit of the historical foundations of radical anti-architecture in nomadism, and has not yet led to a positive development.”
(Process Philosophy)
“If you abolish my consciousness … matter resolves itself into numberless vibrations, all linked together in uninterrupted continuity, all bound up with each other, and traveling in every direction like shivers. In short, try first to connect together the discontinuous objects of daily experience; then, resolve the motionless continuity of these qualities into vibrations, which are moving in place; finally, attach yourself to these movements, by freeing yourself from the divisible space that underlies them in order to consider only their mobility – this undivided act that your consciousness grasps in the movement that you yourself execute. You will obtain a vision of matter that is perhaps fatiguing for your imagination, but pure and stripped of what the requirements of life make you add to it in external perception. Reestablish now my consciousness, and with it, the requirements of life: farther and farther, and by crossing over each time enormous periods of the internal history of things, quasi-instantaneous views are going to be taken, views this time pictorial, of which the most vivid colors condense an infinity of repetitions and elementary changes. In just the same way the thousands of successive positions of a runner are contracted into one sole symbolic attitude, which our eye perceives, which art reproduces, and which becomes for everyone the image of a man who runs.“
(Henri Berson, Matter and Memory)

To permit a material experiment which incorporates occupation as a generating force in the form (and gradient of performances) of an architectural surface, I propose broadening this discourse to include two more primary references: Greg Lynn’s Animate Form and Leon van Schaik’s Spatial Intelligence.
Weinstock cites Antoni Gaudi (tangentially) and Frei Otto (substantially) as the progenitors of this new area of material experimentation and credits “new mathematical models”
 as providing the experimental framework for next-generation investigation into self-organizing systems.

1 Steven Johnson. 2002. Emergence : The connected lives of ants, brains, cities, and software. 1st Touchstone ed. New York. p.66
2 Michael Weinstock. ‘Surfaces of Self-organization: Andrew Kudless’ Material Explorations’, PRAXIS 9: Expanding Surface, Praxis Inc. (Cambridge, MA), 2006.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Johnson 2002. p.18
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Achim Menges. “Emergence in Architecture,” Emergence: Morphogenetic Design Strategies, AD 74 No. 3 (May/June 2004): 6.)  (Castle, Helen. “Editorial,” Emergence: Morphogenetic Design Strategies, AD 74 No. 3 (May/June 2004): 4
9 Johnson. 2002.
10 D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson. 1942. On growth and form. New ed ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
11 Michael Weinstock. 2006.
12 Siegfried Gaß. “Preface,” Form Force Mass 5: Experiments, Institut für Leichte Flächentragwerke (IL) 25, (1990): 0.17
13 Hensel, Michael. 2006. “Polymorphism” Techniques and Technologies in Morphogenetic Design, AD 76, No2 (March/April 2006). p.86
14 Achim Menges. 2006. “Morphoecologies” Techniques and Technologies in Morphogenetic Design, AD 76, No2 (March/April 2006). p.73
21 Achim Menges. 2006. “Morphogenesis and the Mathematics of Emergence” Techniques and Technologies in Morphogenetic Design, AD 76, No2 (March/April 2006). p.13
22 Ibid.
23 Images: (top to bottom) 1:, 2, 3:, 4, 5, 6:
24 Menges. 2006.
25 Greg Lynn. 1999. Animate form. Princeton Architectural Press. New York.
27 Ibid.
28 Francesco Careri. 2002. Walkscapes. Editorial Gustavo Gili. Barcelona. p. 20.
29 Ibid. p.25
30 Henri Bergson. 1911. Matter and Memory. G. Allen & Unwin. London.
31 Ibid.


is a place

generated form
i've exasperated don
(which somehow secretly satisfys me)
i know i spelled that wrong
i'm somehow actively resisting form
and desperately trying to figure out how to get it back
it's not that i can't put pen to's that i wont

to dwell

i'm mystified...i admit...i'm trying to understand achim menges' postagriculture project

(thisisn'tit) this is a dead baby bird everyday i walk to school when it's spring there is a wall just before i get to school it is framed almost an alley (but not quite) and birds nest in the holes in the wall holes from beams (it's an old building) and from the nests fall baby birds who couldn't quite fly or who were blown out by cruel winds truely cruel not metaphorically really cruel

they lie. small. featherless. or featherlittle. on the grey pavingstones that are the necessary and natural ground plane on which sits our red school.

the domain of the school is marked by those pavers. stepping off them is leaving...

achim menges is much smarter than me

Monday, November 16, 2009

On Graduation, Procrastination, and Humility

"triumph" seems too meek a word to describe the accomplishments of this woman!

 i wish for the optimism and tenacity of  dr. tererai trent.

From the New York Times
November 15, 2009
Op-Ed Columnist

Triumph of a Dreamer

Any time anyone tells you that a dream is impossible, any time you’re discouraged by impossible challenges, just mutter this mantra: Tererai Trent.

Of all the people earning university degrees this year, perhaps the most remarkable story belongs to Tererai (pronounced TEH-reh-rye), a middle-aged woman who is one of my heroes. She is celebrating a personal triumph, but she’s also a monument to the aid organizations and individuals who helped her. When you hear that foreign-aid groups just squander money or build dependency, remember that by all odds Tererai should be an illiterate, battered cattle-herd in Zimbabwe and instead — ah, but I’m getting ahead of my story.

Tererai was born in a village in rural Zimbabwe, probably sometime in 1965, and attended elementary school for less than one year. Her father married her off when she was about 11 to a man who beat her regularly. She seemed destined to be one more squandered African asset.

A dozen years passed. Jo Luck, the head of an aid group called Heifer International, passed through the village and told the women there that they should stand up, nurture dreams, change their lives.

Inspired, Tererai scribbled down four absurd goals based on accomplishments she had vaguely heard of among famous Africans. She wrote that she wanted to study abroad, and to earn a B.A., a master’s and a doctorate.

Tererai began to work for Heifer and several Christian organizations as a community organizer. She used the income to take correspondence courses, while saving every penny she could.

In 1998 she was accepted to Oklahoma State University, but she insisted on taking all five of her children with her rather than leave them with her husband. “I couldn’t abandon my kids,” she recalled. “I knew that they might end up getting married off.”

Tererai’s husband eventually agreed that she could take the children to America — as long as he went too. Heifer helped with the plane tickets, Tererai’s mother sold a cow, and neighbors sold goats to help raise money. With $4,000 in cash wrapped in a stocking and tied around her waist, Tererai set off for Oklahoma.

An impossible dream had come true, but it soon looked like a nightmare. Tererai and her family had little money and lived in a ramshackle trailer, shivering and hungry. Her husband refused to do any housework — he was a man! — and coped by beating her.

“There was very little food,” she said. “The kids would come home from school, and they would be hungry.” Tererai found herself eating from trash cans, and she thought about quitting — but felt that doing so would let down other African women.

“I knew that I was getting an opportunity that other women were dying to get,” she recalled. So she struggled on, holding several jobs, taking every class she could, washing and scrubbing, enduring beatings, barely sleeping.

At one point the university tried to expel Tererai for falling behind on tuition payments. A university official, Ron Beer, intervened on her behalf and rallied the faculty and community behind her with donations and support.

“I saw that she had enormous talent,” Dr. Beer said. His church helped with food, Habitat for Humanity provided housing, and a friend at Wal-Mart carefully put expired fruits and vegetables in boxes beside the Dumpster and tipped her off.

Soon afterward, Tererai had her husband deported back to Zimbabwe for beating her, and she earned her B.A. — and started on her M.A. Then her husband returned, now frail and sick with a disease that turned out to be AIDS. Tererai tested negative for H.I.V., and then — feeling sorry for her husband — she took in her former tormentor and nursed him as he grew sicker and eventually died.

Through all this blur of pressures, Tererai excelled at school, pursuing a Ph.D at Western Michigan University and writing a dissertation on AIDS prevention in Africa even as she began working for Heifer as a program evaluator. On top of all that, she was remarried, to Mark Trent, a plant pathologist she had met at Oklahoma State.

Tererai is a reminder of the adage that talent is universal, while opportunity is not. There are still 75 million children who are not attending primary school around the world. We could educate them all for far less than the cost of the proposed military “surge” in Afghanistan.

Each time Tererai accomplished one of those goals that she had written long ago, she checked it off on that old, worn paper. Last month, she ticked off the very last goal, after successfully defending her dissertation. She’ll receive her Ph.D next month, and so a one-time impoverished cattle-herd from Zimbabwe with less than a year of elementary school education will don academic robes and become Dr. Tererai Trent.