AP/GSys: An Experimental Growth Model

October 12th, 2012, architecture

This projects tries to meaningfully explore the nature of optimization taking cues from the concept of growth. The assignment was calling for the development of the Almere Pampus, an area north-east of Amsterdam, an completely blank plot of land which would serve in reaching the goals of doubling up the population of Almere. The relatively abstract nature of the site allowed for a speculative research in growth models, merging theoretical concepts (laid down by DeLanda and Bruno Latour) with practical applications stemming from physics (formulated in Constructal Theory).

The theoretical framework is centered around eliminating the false dichotomy between the natural environment and the cultural environment, or, at a less abstract level, between the Natural and Anthropic. Thus, we propose to perceive both man made as well as naturally evolved systems from the same vantage point, as an integrated nature-culture assembly whose common denominator is the process of growth.

Constructal theory formulates the basis on which a system can persist in time: it has to evolve in such a way so as to impose less resistance to the currents flowing through it. Thus, in the case of a river, its course is literally shaped by the water it carries in such a way that it poses less resistance to that flow. At the other end of the abstract scale, societal organizational structures evolve in such a way so as to promote less friction between the collectively assembled weltanschaung. Cities, and their morphology, evolve in such a way so as to provide more fluidity to the currents that pass through them. These currents are numerous and deeply inter-related: geographical layout, economic flows, political views, and, much more visible, mobility, traffic and technological means of travelling. Thus, simplifying, the process of urban growth can be seen as a natural system which tries to minimize resistance to several key parameters.

The project manifests itself not as a frozen masterplan, but ultimately as a flexible process. The geometry presented below is purely abstract in nature, in its actual manifestation it can be any variation along the rules of the system, for there is no “global optimum”, only endless local optima. An accessible way to present this is as following: all trees are resulting from the same growth process, yet all trees are different. Nature doesn’t optimize towards absolute, unique perfection, but towards local optima. Or, as I said in my Framing Optimization article,

“Due to the inherent heuristic nature of the optimization process and its results when applied to architectural problems, we must concede the fact that there is no absolute optimum, or no single best solution. Rather, what we’re looking at is a collection of local optima which are equivalent in terms of performance. The singular, independent architectural object is thus refuted – the pretence of authorial uniqueness evaporates when confronted with the multiplicity of equivalent solutions which results from an computationally rationalized heuristic (as opposed to the semi-conscious architectural intuition) optimization process.”

A tool for exploring the various parameters of this growth system has been developed in Processing. It is akin to a serious game, in which there is a balanced interaction between the designer and the algorithmic process itself. This approach was favoured over one of complete computer independence due to the fact that I strongly believe in the quality of the heuristic decisions of which a trained individual is capable of . Here’s a video of it in action:

The architectural manifestations of this abstract diagram should be treated as another step in the experimental direction. The classical notion of urban block is inverted, in the sense that now the street becomes the actual “built environment”. Infrastructure takes on a new, denser materiality which allows for a favorable interweaving of the natural environment – in the case of the Almere Pampus, the polder’s greatest demise: floods.

The exterior skin of the “building” has undergone rigourous climatic testing, as it is the backbone of the symbiotic relationship between the built environment and the natural one. Consisting of a dynamic membrane which provides shading, it is also a conduit for water which is used as a passive cooling (or heating) system throughout the year. The ribbons coil around the structure in order to optimize distribution of the thermal mass material all over the building. 

Here are some visualizations of a particular part of the urban tissue under heavy rain:

2 Comments. Wow. What do you think? Add your voice to the conversation below. Should be fun! Click to show the comments.

i like the dialogue of natural, built, unbuilt and designed environment with each other. can you talk in detail about which platforms you have used for your design exploration?

It’s quite a mix&mash of tools and platforms; if you’re referring to technical tools, it’s processing for the simulation of the growth systems at a big scale, rhino and grasshopper for the smaller scale. Also further architectural detailing was achieved with grasshopper, and lots of scripting inside.
I remember also dabbling with some various environmental analysis tools, namely ecotect.

Hope this answers your question!

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