Architecture stands at an inflection point. The confluence of advances in both computation and fabrication technologies offers architects the possibility of designing and constructing hitherto unimaginable forms.
With increases in processing power, the roughly triangulated geometries and simple blobs of the early 2000's have given way to the possibility of complex geometries at multiple scales with details approaching the threshold of human visibility. In parallel, advances in additive manufacturing technologies have put us at the verge of materializing any form. For the first time, it is possible to print not only small architecture models - but the full-scale architecture itself.
Complexity is no longer an impediment to design and fabrication. Rather, it is an opportunity that is waiting to be explored. For years, information technology constrained architects. Arguably, this relationship has been reversed: it is now architects who are constraining the possibilities of information technology. To truly exploit the possibilities, we can no longer draw by mouse in CAD programs. Nor can we use parametric approaches that alter existing geometries rather than create genuinely new ones. What is needed is an abstract and open-ended method: a computational approach.
In computational design, parameters do not control the geometry directly. Rather, they control the operations of a procedure that generates a geometry. These processes strike a delicate balance between the expected and the unexpected, between control and relinquishment. The design processes are deterministic – as they do not involve randomness - but they're not necessarily entirely predictable. They have the power to surprise.
Once formulated, such a computational approach can be applied again and again. One no longer designs an object, but a process to generate objects. One can work with many parallel variants instead of refining a singular design. These variants can be bred and cultivated into entire families of objects by combining and mutating their process parameters.
A computational approach enables architecture to be embedded with an extraordinary degree of information. Structure and surface can exhibit a hyper-resolution, with seemingly endless distinct formations. The processes can generate highly specific local conditions, while ensuring an overall coherency and continuity. As such, the resulting architecture does not lend itself to a visual reductionism. Rather, the procedures can devise truly surprising topographies and topologies that go far beyond what one could have traditionally conceived.
Michael Hansmeyer is an architect and programmer who explores the use of algorithms and computation to generate architectural form. Recent projects include the Sixth Order installation of columns at the Gwangju Design Biennale, as well as the the design of full-scale 3D printed grotto for the 2013 Archilab exhibition.
He is currently based in the CAAD group at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology's architecture department in Zurich. He holds a Master of Architecture degree from Columbia University and an MBA degree fron INSEAD Fontainebleau. He previously worked for J.P. Morgan, McKinsey & Company, and at Herzog & de Meuron architects.