A Study on Context-based Evolutionary Building Design with animation software MAYA
Knowlton School of Architecture, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA.
The study is focused on how to generate a building form based on architectural contexts using MAYA. A priori conception of the form by the designer is not reflected in the form-generation process. The designer gains authorship through an editor’s role. Forms are generated as a result of reactions to a context of forces; constraints form the initial reference boundary. Realistic architectural factors are incorporated in the design process by converting them into data attributes. The aim of the study is to investigate the possibility of an evolutionary design process that involves information (pragmatic constraints) as generator and unpredictable but site-specific. Ultimately, this study is aimed at exploring an architectural design method that addresses the “performative” issues of architecture.
To transform spaces rather than just form them, architects have been drawing diagrams as a tool of generative and transformational design process. The process of forming holds more potential than form itself because it describes becoming instead of just being. Beyond the thought of diagramming as the representation of an idea, Deleuze’s ‘diagram as a possibility of fact’ is conceived as a reference for this study to set a more dynamic relationship between the form and the forming. But, here, ‘a new figuration emerges’ from animated diagrams. In other words, diagrams are not producing conceptually dynamic responses but, they form a dynamic system that affects transformation in non-linear parametric manner with the use of animation software. The process of Forming is evolutionary. It doesn’t eliminate differences and complexities but it incorporates them. It’s not about a form of unity but about a strategy of hybridization.
First, “In-formation” takes place when site-specific conditions or architectural contexts are factored into formal attributes to make an initial 3D boundary. It’s similar to forming a datascape. What’s distinctive is that this step is not a destination but a beginning of evolutionary forming. It is a way to use architectural constraints (quantitative or qualitative) as a means to generate a form. Property constraints (setback, height limit, etc.) and the site condition or relationship to the street or adjacent buildings become the attributes of the initial geometry. These mundane aspects, which architects want to ignore but cannot in reality, are incorporated into the design process. So, the limitations of reality will not let down the aspirations of the architect at the end of the design process. Instead of a design process in which the program comes after the design, this proposal is geared toward designing an “intervening relationship” between them. This ‘uniting-separating’ of the two can occur along the timeline of design evolution repeatedly depending on the complexity of the project. This means that the proposed method in this study is not a fixed set of operations applicable to all instances, but rather a platform model which evolves or transforms itself responding to each specific building project.
The site for this study is at the north-eastern edge of the intersection of Broad St. and High St. in the downtown of Columbus, Ohio (the red box indicates the site & the proposed height of the building in the image below). The existing five-story building is being demolished to accommodate a new 10 story building. The important aspects of the site include its location in the center of the city, the proximity of the State House, the adjacent Scioto River to the west, the advantage of open views and the rush hour traffic.
The form of the existing building is extruded upward to the height desired by the owner. The other physical constraints are factored in to form an invisible boundary of building. In this particular case, there was not much formal change, but in most densely populated urban settings, complex site constraints alone will provide more diverse and unexpected initial geometry. Then, this resultant form is hybridized with neighboring buildings to be connected but different. This process involves interpolations between the 3D forms of the new building form and the surrounding buildings. Technology allows us to morph what constitutes the site in animation software but, editing is believed to be necessary. The architect designs the design by setting up the process and the relationships while parametric transformations essentially deal with how to define the relationships among the nodes. He or she doesn’t lose “authorship”. Technology is a device used to extend the boundary of what’s possible with a more traditional design method. The editing is done by choosing one interpolated state among many animation frames of transformation.
The resultant form of the initial boundary-morphing-editing process goes through “De-formation”. The site-specific conditions are converted into the attributes of “de-forming forces”. Those conditions are the open views toward the river side and the State House as well as prominent traffic/ movement around the site. The dynamic forces set in MAYA collide with the existing built structures as well as the building form on site. There are a few options to execute this simulation: 1) make particles in a dynamic field move through the site and collide with a “cloth” building form, 2) use a “soft body” model instead of “cloth”. Gravity and cloth material attributes such as bend resistance and thickness are applied and tested in numerous combinations to simulate the material quality that is malleable but rigid enough to stand up to the forces without collapsing within 100 frames of animation. The factors of dynamic forces are not limited to the above examples. Depending on the site, it could be wind or some other seemingly non-quantifiable qualities. These extendable sets of factors and operations form a dynamic system that may enable us to utilize the complexities of design circumstances as part of a design mechanism. Therefore, they become factors of a solution, not the reason for limitations and restrictions.
One transitional state of the de-formation is chosen and edited considering where main openings to the street should be located in consultation with the owner (in this study, it’s conjectural). Here, the master geometry of the exterior begins to take shape. But, it’s up to the designer or the client whether this de-formed state is used as the basis of the exterior envelope or the interior void (after scaling down). In this particular study, the overall size of the building doesn’t leave room for using the form as void inside. The diagram of forces act, move, affect, and reveal the process of “forming”. The designer constantly moves in and out of the diagram of tension (dynamic) between form (chosen state) and forming (animated process).
To coordinate the spatial experience inside and out, the networking of the program is plugged into the dynamic evolution, resulting in an “Inter-forming” process. The 3D diagram of the required program (what makes up a medium-size hotel) is drawn within the hybrid form, focusing on the issue of spatial connection and sequence. The next step is to interpolate between the diagram and the hybrid form. The purpose of this process lies in making the interior spaces respond to the exterior form. It is a process of revising each other, forming each other again (Inter-forming). The architect tries to overcome the illusion and false promise of digital surface modeling and rendering. The designer gets to address the making of spatial experience (sensation/ event) as his or her ultimate goal of architecture in a more concrete and realistic manner.
Next, paths of movement or circulation are studied. This diagram of networking is developed based on the programmatic space arrangement of the previous process and the expected circulation volume between nodes. This diagram shouldn’t be just connecting tubes. To avoid this, it’s believed to be important for the designer to play a subjective editor’s role at this stage. Dealing with this design issue with the intricate method of a procedural algorithm wouldn’t be a sensible solution. Technology, pragmatics and architecture are interrelated. Their complex field of relations is edited as part of the process to produce not the appearance of what it might be, but the capacity to affect and transform our experience and more. What resulted from this sequence of operations and editing becomes a referential 3D plan. This master geometry is adjusted and detailed as the art of construction begins, which goes beyond the scope of this study. But, the divisive perception of design and construction should also be reconsidered because the idea of networking matters and incorporating differences in a dynamic system (flux) may be a solution for the world of complexities.
Not as a definitive solution, but as a suggestive step forward, this study is intended to investigate how an architect can utilize animation technology (MAYA) to conceive a comprehensive strategy of evolutionary building design. ‘What distinguishes art and architecture from other forming is its intentionality, or gehalt (in addition to its gestalt), which creates significance or meaning’.
Although the greatest discoveries in history are not always the product of intentional efforts, the art of form-making merely for the sake of intellectual pleasure will neither liberate anyone nor satisfy our desire for new approaches to architecture. The unique position of architecture always forces us to think in realistic terms as much as to consider architecture as a cultural practice. The question is if there is any way to resolve the issue of this seemingly contradictory relationship. If not an overarching prescription, the proposed strategy of incorporation may help form a more serious platform for the breakthrough of evolutionary and generative design processes to that end, using the available technology, instead of being swayed by it. In my further research I plan to focus on investigating the idea of dynamic diagramming more systematically and to incorporate the aspects of construction into this evolutionary design process. To Lars Spuybroek, the diagram is something that ‘doesn’t want to impose itself on matter, but to engage in a process of continuous formation’. He thinks computing is an enhancement tool of the communication between diagrams, a ‘meta-diagramming’, to potentially connect all actions on matter. We need to understand when to use it and when we shouldn’t. This may be even more important than the issue of how to use it.
I gratefully acknowledge the mentoring of Prof. Matthew Lewis, Ph.D., Advanced Computing Center for Art and Design, and the kind support of Prof. Jose Oubrerie, Knowlton School of Architecture, The Ohio State University.
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Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: the logic of sensation. University of Minnesota Press,
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