arhitectura … parametric mindset & decision-making

SOCIAL HEURISTICS

The world exists independent of our minds and is not bounded to one individual or independent behaviour that doesn’t take into account or neglects society as a whole. In a new ecology of matter, this transpires as an increased interdependency of social processes, a world where we need to take-in and operate, independently & collectively manifested complex parameters such as social, political, economic, cultural or environmental aspects. We are no longer to think of a world detached, isolated, as a quasi-feudal, anachronistic and esoteric place, where the architectural response to global views and modi-operandi is irrational and anarchical, translated into loose objects, but rather a more responsible adaptive discourse that reflects architecture’s social function is needed. Architecture’s core competency has always been that of articulating, in a responsible way, the complexity of the built environment through material processes. The inherent material process of architecture result in physical, material objects. The world is made-up of physical objects that exist outside, and independently of our minds. Under Materialism, all phenomena, including mental phenomena and consciousness, are wholly due to material agency. The material interactions in architecture occur between space-users (sentient beings) and the physical objects (designed objects) they interact with. Materialism is presented by Deleuze & Guattari, in their Capitalism and Schizophrenia, as an escape from the old XIXth century thought, through concepts such as self-awareness, lines of flight, deterritorialisation vs. territorialisation, swarming, machines, assemblages vs. organisms, abstract machines, immanence, networks, bodies, plateaus, consolidation, territory, limits, signification, structure, fields, order, milieu, environment, connectivity, emergence, form, frames …1 . The direct link between architecture’s processes and its capacity to produce affects is enabled by consciousness, it meaning the state of being aware of and responsive to one’s surroundings, both interior and exterior. The latitude of architecture’s affects should structure and help individuals and/or collectives navigate with a higher degree of fluency the built environment. Every society is dependent on its built environment as it encompasses places and spaces where humans live, work and recreate on a daily basis. Our contemporary global society is faced with a fast pace development driven mostly by technology and its ability to produce information and increase connectivity between individuals. This information driven society has been described as Network-Society, Knowledge-society, Post-Fordist Society, Post-Modern Society, Post-Industrial Society or Information Society terms coined in order to describe the transformations that started in the 1970’s until today, transformations which are reshaping the way in which societies fundamentally work. These theories are based on the presupposition that society in general is being reshaped under the auspices of information access and the monetarization of information which in turn produces a new kind of economy and social behaviour. Critiques argue that if information is much more accessible in the contemporary world, it does not need to be perceived as a totally different society2; in fact it can be viewed as an evolution. This evolution, built upon existing societies and cultures, offers an exhaustive array of possibilities. Social actors are being exposed to a manifold of milieus, both virtual and physical. The changes that occur in society, driven by deindustrialization and an increase of information based processes, are reflected throughout all layers of societal-functions as evolutions. Architecture as an autopietic societal-function has the capacity to be informed and to produce affects that fully integrate contemporary societal needs, therefor in turn needs to evolve its discourse and practice.

PARADIGM

Architecture in the 21st century is confronted with a PARADIGM SHIFT. This is a need that is in part generated by a new globalised NETWORK SOCIETY or/and IFORMATITION SOCIETY and on the other hand, the need for coherence in the architectural discourse itself. A new paradigm is needed in order to respond to the increasingly more complex demands of our global society. The call-out to stop generalised garbage-spill architecture has been made across the field, both in academia and practice, in avant-garde (speculative architecture) or mainstream fashion. There is an inherent, general feeling for a more qualitative way of materialising our abstract world into the physical world space. Reaching out from the abstract need of sociology, economy, politics, ecology or engineering to the material processes that architecture can provide and is sole responsible for its affects. Architecture gives form to function and orders social communication through its construct. Architecture’s new paradigm shift is called PARAMETRICISM3 and it is unique in its ability to negotiate a vast array of information layers and superimpose them seemingly and gradually, in order to create a flowing longitude of differentiation. It provides a new framework for architectural processes and defines the discipline as an independent autopoietic4 social-system. This style is meant to evolve and unify architecture’s global discourse, as a rightful successor to Modernism, peak the efforts of Post-Modernism and end the crisis of Modernism.

The parametricist paradigm is set to operate under three main agendas: The Organisational (physical) The Phenomenological (perceptual) and The Semiological Project (communicative). Part of Parametricism’s aim is to render potentially embedded semantics conscious to architecture’s practice in order to achieve a higher degree of correlation between form and function and the various layers of information that can transpire through architecture’s physicality. The Semiological Project is based on the philosophical concept of semiology given by the linguist F. Saussure and it aims at improving the navigability of the environment it defines. Saussure exemplifies how anything acquires meaning through language. Language as a frame for communications: “Words are not mere vocal labels or communicational adjuncts superimposed upon an already given order of things. They are collective products of social interaction, essential instruments through which human beings constitute and articulate their world.” We can articulate architecture’s goal as framing social communications (e.g.) “the meaning of a word (sign) is its use.” (L. Wittgenstein) => “if a space has meaning, the meaning of a space is its use.” (P. Schumacher) = space as a frame for communication. By assuming an abstract translation of words into units or elements that carefully crafted articulate intricate and coherent structures (main distinction between semiotics and semiology); we can assume that architecture has the same inherent potential. We often refer to architecture having its own language and syntax in the same way as linguistics has syntax and semantics. The semantics of architecture’s materiality is translated into Parametricism trough the Semiological Project, by framing communications into architectural elements. Informed architecture addresses the importance of navigating space and orienting one’s self with confidence and ease in order to establish new connections and have meaningful experiences. The users of space are sentient, social beings not mere bodies funnelled through an amorphous physical construct. In order to navigate, we need to understand, first of all, what is going on in a given environment (function type); who to expect in a certain part of a territory (social type); where we are in respect to others and possible alternatives of the building’s available usability (location type). Consistent designs-heuristics help improve and cohere the built environment; in Parametricism there are both Formal and Functional Heuristics defined with negative and positive values that articulate meaningfully the formal, functional and social criteria. These heuristics are the drivers for articulating and informing the various parametric models as solution sates in accordance to their problem state.

Formal negative heuristics:

avoid straight lines, avoid right angles, avoid corners, avoid rigid geometric primitives like squares, triangles and circles, avoid simple repetition of elements, avoid juxtaposition of unrelated elements or systems, and avoid familiar typologies

Formal positive heuristics:

hybridize, morph, deterritorialize, deform, iterate, use splines, nurbs, generative components, script rather than model, consider all forms to be parametrically malleable, differentiate gradually (at variant rates), inflect and correlate systematically

Functional negative heuristics:

avoid thinking in terms of essences, avoid stereotypes and strict typologies, and avoid designating functions to strict and separated and discrete zones

Functional positive heuristics:

think in terms of gradient fields of activity, about variable social scenarios calibrated by various event parameters, think in terms of actor-artefact networks7

DECISION-MAKING

I would like to address the issue of DECISION-MAKING and how we are bound to make decisions, both in how we elaborate a parametric model and speculate on how we perceive physical space and its affects. Decision-making as a cognitive process is defined in psychology as the capacity to select a belief or a course of action among several alternative possibilities. Decision-making has psychological, cognitive and normative research perspectives. The decision-making process is regarded as a continuous process integrated in the interaction with the environment.

In economics, Herbert Simon describes the capacity of individuals for decision-making to be bounded. Simon defines this concept as Bounded Rationality, meaning that decision makers can only make satisficing5, even if they intend to make rational choices and maximize the utility through optimization. Bounded Rationality is a concept that is based on three main criteria or constraints: under any circumstance, (1) there is only a limited amount of information that is available over possibilities and their consequences; (2) the human mind has only a limited capacity of evaluate and process the information available; (3) there being only a limited amount of time to make decisions. This concept can easily be abstracted to all decision-making processes, as it’s a general concept that refers to the limitations that decision-makers have to manage. These bounds on rationality make the process of decision-making rely on rules of thumb or habit. Habit was described as following in the American Journal of Psychology (1903): “A habit, from the standpoint of psychology, is a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.”

The link between architecture and the decision-making process is established in the environment that has to be constantly navigated by all individuals that participate to societal functions. The milieus that individuals interact in are mainly governed by the physical, material build-up of architecture’s processes. By this we can assume that architecture is directly and constantly influencing the majority of the decision-making processes of all individuals with regards to ubiquitous spatial navigations. In a constantly evolving social environment, where interaction and the exchange of information is key to its functionality and evolution, architecture’s core competency to articulate and frame social communication is empowered through The Semiological Project. This allows a faster decision-making process of its social actors.  When we navigate space, we are subconsciously learning how to orient ourselves. We create rules-of-thumb based on simple dichotomies that make distinctions possible: high & low, inside & outside, light & dark, opened & closed, solid & transparent etc., we then transform them into positive or negative environmental incentives. In the built environment, these incentives transpire through architectural elements; they will help us navigate space as compasses for orientation, acquiring meaning through their use.

THE PARAMETRIC MODEL

The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.”6 Time in architecture is perceived through the movement of the user in space and the visual interactions with its proximity. In order for the users to stay informed, the system should provide a clear legibility of its components and their respective meaning throughout the territory it defines. The variation and gradient alteration of the elements throughout the system keeps a user aware of its own movement and relative position to the system’s parts, maintaining in the same time consistency and balance of its build form.

In order for a system to be legible and for it to have the capacity to inform users on how they should relate to it and its parts, it needs to articulate the different functionalities it may have with identifiable elements with known operations. The construct has to be able to send a message to its user and let the user know what it’s talking about. In less abstract terms, one should be able to identify architectural elements as signifiers, relative to their visibility, position, massing, degree of accessibility, materiality, etc. which in turn can all signify a specific function, social affiliation or area of the territory.

A build-up needs to have multiple possibilities to be navigated, it needs to be opened and flexible, it needs a multiplicity of vistas and a complex circulatory system that can provide a multiplicity of choice. The users should be able to navigate the built environment manifold, avoiding dead-ends. If a user needs to change track in its movement, the possibility for fast tracks and slow tracks needs to be introduced for the different categories of users involved in the usage of a territory. The faster ways of communication or circulation are going to mostly be used by the informed experienced users, while the slower more indirect paths will mostly be used by the unexperienced users who will always stay in a field that offers them maximum visibility and a high degree of cognition opportunity. The functionality of the system needs to be informed by the formal aspect of its architecture. Form should give meaning to function, in a new definition of the binomial correlation.

A consistency in the design language and operations is preferred in order to reduce the risk of biases. Users should not have to wonder if the same type of operation or articulation of architectural elements has different semantics, if found in different areas of a territory. A set of rules and conventions can be established for differentiating through geometrical operations, distinct spatial and social hierarchies. If there is a consistency throughout the territory with regards to rules of connectivity and articulation of the different similar parts, the user will gain confidence and therefore less bias. One can argue for consistency and not sameness, consistency as harmony or compatibility as opposed to endless repetition or modularity. When there is a consistent design language throughout the built environment the choices become clearer and easier to make for any of its users.

              “The problem space defines the set of problem states among which the solution states must be found7. Given the vast array of possibilities that can be generated through contemporary design specific computation methods, a manifold of problem states can be found. In fact, to be able to select the best problem state that suits our solution state, we would have to go through and test or examine a greater amount of data then the time available to our problem solving timeframe. We can aim for the best result by methods of optimizations, or we can aim for the satisfactory solution, which would give a suitable problem state for a goal state to be reached. This problematic is tied back to Simon’s definition of satisficing and the limitations of optimization under constraints.

              A solution state is reached by generating and testing different problem states. These problem states are made up by computational models which will allow the study and testing of complex systems and their behaviour through computer simulations. The problem states include all available information existing at any given instance, formulated via symbolic systems corresponding to the conceptual, modelling and evaluation systems in three states: the initial state, the intermediate state and the goal state (P. Schumacher). The problem space is tested against the three main agendas: the organizational, the phenomenological and the semiological dimensions of the project. In order to produce architectural order, these dimensions set-up two binary distinctions: the organization and the articulation of the architectural processes. The order proposed by Parametricism is advanced through design processes such as Parametric Inter-Articulation, Parametric Accentuation, Parametric Figuration, Parametric Semiology, Parametric Responsiveness, Parametric Ecology and Deep Relationality. The goal state of the discourse is to achieve a deep relationality in the totality of the built environment.

              “All grids are fields, but not all fields are grids.”8 The problematic of the field, has been take on by architectural discourse, through Frey Otto or Stan Allen and sets the ground for Parametricism to demarcate itself from the rigidity of Modernism. Frei Otto makes a remarkable study of patterns of human organisations inspired by nature in vernacular formations9 and Allen makes abstract studies of possible field formations or systems, in order to prove a more integrated solution for the figure-ground problematic of architectural compositions. Allen proposes to rethink the figure in relation to the field, not as a clearly demarcated and individual object that reads against a stable (static) field, but rather as an emergent effect of the field itself. Considering these premises we assume that fields have a higher capacity to integrate parameters found both in the initial state and in the problem state of a project and have a higher probability of success in reaching a solution/goal state of the project in a more satisfactory form. Site conditions, functional, social and environmental layers can be integrated and correlated within such symbolic systems through methods of differentiation, juxtaposition and variation; establishment and reversals of hierarchies; spatial positioning with regards to marginality and centrality, levels of importance, inside/outside/on the border/in between conditions, centre vs. periphery, serviced vs. service areas, proliferations through repetition and iterations. The parametric malleability, complexity and manifestations of fields results out of their inherent fractal systems and their potential adaptation of different subsystems such as L-systems, Mandelbrot systems, dynamic systems such as fluid dynamics or particle systems, diffusion limited aggregation (DLA) systems, self-organised systems such as: voronoi, cellular structures, spontaneous magnetizations, crystallizations; geometrical systems: triangulation, recursive self-referenced subdivision, geo-webs; behavioural systems: swarm formations or cellular automata; path-optimizations (Frey Otto) urban networks (Hiller).

              The decision-making process that ultimately reaches the satisficing aspiration level starts at the level of generate-and-test methods of the process. Supposing the task is to articulate a programmatic requirement such as an urban block with three main layers of social functions that need to be integrated onto an existing context and environment. We can generate several symbolic systems at the conceptual level that rely on either of the aforementioned systems. By methods of analysis we can identify the given environment’ and context’s characteristics and extract the main abstract and physical constituents of the initial state. By means of research we could find the best suitable or satisfactory symbolic systems that can be applied on site, taking into consideration the formal, functional and social criteria of the problem space and test the possible reciprocal relations that can be established between the problem-space over the solution-space. These reciprocal relations can be established by means of inquire into if-then prepositions. We can reduce the number of symbolic systems engaged by using methods of generate-and-test and by local optimizations. A parametric model that is engaged in the earliest stages of the process, such as Galapagos (Grasshopper) or self-organising systems, based on reciprocal relations pre-coded and embedded in their genetic algorithms (CODE), can yield to rapid reductions of variables and biases in the system and a faster genotype selection based on satisfactory phenotypes. The optimized system that satisfies our goals will have the ability to test against seemingly integrating the formal, functional, social and environmental criteria of the problem space. The optimum reached would be then be subjected to optimization processes by local manipulations of the field in order to achieve a higher degree of correlation. A deep-relationality is achieved once all components of the system are interrelated and correlated. Zooming in and zooming out (redundantly applying a system to various scales), can be one method of further detailing the model, depending on the strategies implied. The correlations between field, massing and subsystems of the building blocks are possible by applying a systematic layering of the symbolic systems engaged in the problem space, achieving a gradient transition and systematic differentiation in topology and scale. By the use of manifold symbolic systems and by means of emergence, new, unexpected solution states can be found and tested against the goal parameters that are implied in the problem space.

“Whether a designed […] space will work well as effective orientation space, and whether it will facilitate the envisaged encounters and informal communication events, is not easy to ascertain. Agent simulations, scenario planning and people animation might come close. The key point here is that each planning space is only as good as its predictive power over the next execution space and ultimately over the life-process of the building as frame for social communication. On the other hand, the design process in each problem/planning space is only as good as the simplification of the problem its abstractions achieve. These two criteria have contrary implications and need to be balanced.”10

  1. Deleuze, Gill & Guattari, Felix (1980) Mille Plateaux, volume 2 Capitalisme et Schizophrenic, Les Editions de Minuit, Paris.
  2. Webster, Frank (2002) The Information Society Revisited. In: Lievrouw, Leah A./Livingstone, Sonia (Eds.) (2002) Handbook of New Media. London: Sage. pp. 259.
  3. Schumacher, Patrik (2008) Parametricism as Style – Parametricism Manifesto, London; presented and discussed at the Dark Side Club, 11th Architecture Biennale, Venice 2008.
  4. Luhman, Niklas
  5. Simon, A. Herbert (April 1984). Models Of Bounded Rationality And Other Topics In Economics. The MIT Press.  ISBN: 9780262690867
  6. Schumacher, Patrik (2012), The Autopoiesis of Architecture – A New Agenda For Architecture, ed. John Wiley & Sons Ltd., London, pp. 298, ISBN 978-0-470-66616-6
  7. Nielsen, Jakob (1994). Usability Engineering. San Diego: Academic Press. pp. 115–148. ISBN 0-12-518406-9.
  8. Alle, Stan (1999) Points + Lines, New York, ISBN 1-56898-155-4
  9. Otto, Frei (2009) Occupying and Connecting, ed. Axel Menges ISBN 978-3-932565-11-3

10. Schumacher, Patrik (2012), The Autopoiesis of Architecture – A New Agenda For Architecture, ed. John Wiley & Sons Ltd., London, pp. 298, ISBN 978-0-470-66616-6

Zaha, Bogdan; ARHITECTURA – DIGITALISM 1906/4-5/2015, Bucharest

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