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Evolutionary Architecture
Alex Steffen, 14 Jul 04

We're big into evolutionary design here. Using processes which mimic natural selection to evolve unexpected (even unexpect-able) design solutions to ecological problems is a very worldchanging undertaking.

Which may be why I'm really taken by Eugene Tsui's work in evolutionary architecture.

His buildings are green, the forms are evolutionary, and, man, does this guy have his bright green rhetoric down:

"Nature is the open book of knowledge lifted to cosmic proportions. It is a force of intelligence that dwarfs human comprehension. A force that can reveal the solutions to problems that have plagued mankind since the beginning of time. A force that can inject new life and meaning into the veins of humanity. And so my friends, I conclude by saying, that the world needs changing! Not in a little while. Not in some distant future, but here and now!"

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Dr. Tsui's web site presents him as some kind of fabulous Buckaroo Banzai style Genius (with a capital G). While his forms may be evolutionary, the design and construction process implicit in his work is clearly not. Evolutionary design is done by distributed systems; unfortunately the "genius architect" model of creativity is probably the farthest you can get from a distributed system model of process!

A designer who truly understands evolutionary design is going to demonstrate this via the process embodied in their architectural praxis, not via the supposed qualities of the hypothetical buildings they draw.

Posted by: joe on 15 Jul 04

On the other hand, slashdot just posted a fairly decent six part overview of "biomorphic computing", using the prototerm for biomimetic. . . NASA swarm dude kenneth lodding argues biomimetic is a singular adjective, and not a metaphor . . . more thrilling tales about slime molds ant piss and non-pointer message passing . . .

Posted by: Ben Hunt on 15 Jul 04

Wow joe, talk about a process over results mindset... this is about improving architectural design for Tsui, not bowing and scraping at the altar of someone's ideology. And this phrase:

"not via the supposed qualities of the hypothetical buildings they draw." clearly dishonest, since he has actually built several of them. Really, you sound like an ideologue with little expertise, sniping without much regard for truth at someone out there who is actually doing something.

The "one architect" method in use here is the method people are used to and will accept in the commercial market. Fighting that may be ideologically pure (though personally, I doubt that), but it would also be stupid.

My comment re: Tsui's designs are that:

(a) They're an acquired taste. Many people may want the benefits of living models and ecological homes, but may not want the homes themselves to look alive with "veins" and similar decorations on the outside. One of the houses he designed even looked kind of like a big spider, and the door and environs was designed so it looked kind of like a mouth. Not what I want to walk into at the end of my day.

Many people are going to want the stucture to use principles of "aliveness" but clearly identify itself as structural. Minor cosmetic modifications would be all it takes to achieve this in most cases.

(b) Some of the designs, like the Apple HQ model, look more like sci-fi cover art than realistic architecture. It would be useful to explain those more if he's going to include them.

(c) Some of them really do fuse beauty and an organic-related design with functionality and tremendous resilience to fire, earthquake, et. al. and/or appropriateness for their purpose. The McRae house, the "Butterfly Pavilion," Aquaterra, The Wilson House, Cathy Julian house et. al. Definitely places I'd be thrilled to live in.

All in all, very thought provoking.

Posted by: Joe Katzman on 18 Jul 04

Thanks for the ad hominem, JK. Great contribution to a discussion of the merits here.

Do you really think that the only thing wrong with the world is that it simply *never occurred* to anybody before that they could make a building that looks like a Roger Dean painting? Is the only limitation of "the method people are used to and will accept in the commercial market" really as simple as a lack of more creative designs to work with?

There are nameless papercrete/straw-and-cob hippies all over the place already making organic forms as interesting as Tsui's already, and god bless them.

Look for architects who are providing modular systems and you will find people who are actually "doing something" but also recognize the importance of decentralized process. Many of them are not taken seriously as "architects" because they do not fit the established presentation of ego that is associated with the architectural profession. And note that I do not accuse architects of privately having "ego issues" - it's just a requirement of the industry for them to present themselves that way, since the "generally accepted method" is so hidebound that buyers and builders are afraid to do anything different without the supposed authority of "genius" coming from the architect to justify it.

Probably Mr. Tsui would prefer to work in a different system as well, in which he didn't have to hit clients over the head with his other hobbies just to have a small chance of getting a commission. I don't question his intent or his integrity, but is his evident praxis part of the problem or part of the solution? That is the kind of discussion that's worth having.

Posted by: joe on 19 Jul 04



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