This is just thinking out loud – don’t take too seriously. Read below if you really, really want to.
Optimization and optimizing are now central features in any architectural discourse, alongside performance. The concept of optimization is associated with the continuous betterment of a certain design by finding the optimal values for the parameters describing it. Nevertheless, there are certain aspects which require critical reflection.
Optimizing a system which is essentially flawed in its design will not result in the absolute best solution for the given problem. In short, if the design is flawed, no matter how much we optimize, the solution will still be bad architecture because the parameters describing it are the wrong ones – or the less important ones.
What do we want to gain by optimizing a certain design? We can optimize it towards certain quantifiable values, like energy efficiency, structural resistance, etc. of which we know what we want from – less energy consumption, less material usage, etc. There are though a host of ambiguous variables for which we don’t have the correct studies to discern their optimal values. Integration of street networks is a good example: at first sight we want it to be as accessible as possible. Then again, in real-life examples show us that less accessible places provide shelter and quiet from otherwise busy surroundings.
Architectural projects aren’t yet quantifiable in their full complexity and will probably never be. Coupling this with the fact that optimizing one certain parameter, or group of parameters, can result in the complete “de-optimization” of an other set of parameters which are not embedded in the process, and thus ignored. How can we be certain of the godly powers of optimization when the consequences can easily vary wildly?
Constructal theory, which offers a predictive framework and an universal “optimization” goal for Manuel DeLanda’s reality as a flow of matter-energy, states that For a finite-size (flow) system to persist in time (to live), its configuration must evolve such that it provides easier access to the imposed currents that flow through it. Nevertheless, while this can be valid for non-conscious systems, I strongly suspect that anthropic evolution is based on a fine balance between inaction and action, between movement and cessation and should be treated as a special case.
It is thus important to critically reflect on our new found desire to optimize everything we can get our hands on. Good architecture and good urban design draws its positive qualities from the tensions embedded in it and how well modulated they are.