On Un/Certainty as a Method in Architectural Digital Design

Asaf Iris
M.Sc. Thesis, 2008

(together with Neuman Eran)


In recent years, as the enhanced use of computerized form-generation tools in the architectural design process increased, new concepts regarding the design of the architectural form have emerged. One of these concepts is that of uncertainty in the creation of form, a concept which is reflected by various practitioners practicing computer aided design techniques.

This research discusses the concept of uncertainty as a method in architectural design processes, where computerized calculations serve as the creative force in designing the architectural form. In these processes the designer directs the process, but the formativeproduct is not pre-directed, therefore not pre-planned or predicted by the designer. In this situation, where the designer consciously avoids planning a formative result, the design process includes a meaningful dimension of uncertainty regarding the product at the end of the process. This is different from design processes where the designer directs his efforts towards a form. Furthermore, this study refers to processes in which this dimension of uncertainty is intrinsic to the computational process in itself (such as the use of pseudorandom number generators and stochastic searching processes in the creation of form). Given the complexity of the calculation and the embodiment of indeterminacy within the computational process, the discussion is of uncertainty as a method and a process and of the potentiality of the method with regard to design.

The research method is qualitative analysis of a case study aimed at examining this dimension of uncertainty at a critical level. The analysis focuses on The Hylomorphic Project designed by Open Source Architecture with the cooperation of Kristina Shea, Marina Gourtovaia and Arup for the Gen(H)ome exhibition at the Rudolf Schindler House, West Hollywood, Los Angeles in 2006.

The conceptual framework for the case study report is based upon three major themes:
– The first theme, The Third Culture context, refers to the scientific cultural context of the case study design method, identified at the heart of The Hylomorphic design process.
– The second theme, Design Information, refers to the design process method as a system of knowledge, where design information is created not just by the computer, but by design decisions and interactions between different knowledge domains upon the singular platform of the software.
–┬áThe third theme, The Structure of Un/Certainty, examines the incorporation of both “certain” deterministic patterns and “uncertain” unpredictable ones within the syntax of the code script, the structural shape annealing algorithm used by the eifForm software that generated the form, and the syntax of the topological form generation language of the software.

Finally, the dimension of uncertainty which is structured in the process is argued here to play a fundamental role as a productive force in the architectural creation. In the design process of
The Hylomorphic Project the designer controls only part of the design and does not specify the end result of the project. As such, the design method discussed entails a conscious decision by the designer to let go, thus enabling the architectural articulation to autonomously “become” throughout the form generation procedure. The structuring of both “certain” and “uncertain” decisions is well defined in advance, and serves as a platform for unpredictable and extraordinary results that would not have otherwise been possible.