MECS Institute for Advanced Study on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation, Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany, 16. - 17.01.2015

Report by: Franziska Reichenbecher, KOMA - Kompetenzzentrum Medienanthropologie, Bauhaus Universität Weimar
Computational Design Culture - Scripting, Simulation, and the Making of Architecture.
(conference report on behalf of the organizer)

The 1.5-day international conference, conceptualized, and organized by Nicole Stöcklmayr (MECS Institute for Advanced Study on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation, Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany), focused on how parametric methods, computer simulation, and scripting techniques change the design and thinking of architecture, particularly regarding the effects of code-controlled design and fabrication. The conference brought together professional architects, engineers, and software developers with scholars of architectural history and theory, philosophy of science and media studies. Crucial to the discussion of the term Computational Design Culture was the joint understanding of the difference between computation and computerization as contrasted by Kostas Terzidis: Whereas computerization is seen as “the act of entering, processing, or storing information in a computer or a computer system”, which “is about automation, mechanization, digitization, and conversion”, computation stands for “the procedure of calculating, i.e. determining something by mathematical or logical methods” itself. Due to its exploratory mode, computation deals with “the exploration of indeterminate, vague, unclear, and often ill-defined processes” and “aims at emulating or extending the human intellect” by “rationalization, reasoning, logic, algorithm, deduction, induction, extrapolation, exploration, and estimation”. Thus, Computational Design does not refer to mere digitalization or simply to computer equipment, but rather includes “problem solving, mental structures, cognition, simulation, and rule-based intelligence” 1

Biomimetic research: Materiality, performativity, and learning from the living

The first part of the conference was devoted to biomimetic and integrative design strategies investigated at the University of Stuttgart2: The concept of “material agency“ introduced by Achim Menges aims at embedding the logics of materiality into design processes by using organisms as biological role models, whose bionic principles and performance are extended to geometric structures, which are tested, analyzed, evaluated, and finally transferred into an architectural prototype. By this means, adapting the integrative methods of natural morphogenesis and material differentiation requires the exploitation of the interrelation between internal capacities of the system’s material and structure itself as well as of external forces and influencing constraints. Likewise, Jan Knippers exemplified the use of computational strategies for biomimetic research by connecting morphology and functional mechanisms, inter alia in terms of implementing the elastic bending logic of blossoms into a performative kinematic model applicable to facade systems. Both talks illustrated that, as biology demonstrates, materiality is not given, but constructible by rediscovering the structure and the potential that lies in the matter (Menges), which can only be done with the help of computational tools and thinking. Moreover, Computation Design Culture changes the perspective on technology: according to Knippers, computational environments show that simple structures adapted from natural evolution and implementing heterogeneous and anisotropic materials, hierarchy, redundancy, and multi-functionality are much more efficient than constructions that base on mono-functional components, isotropic materials, and hypercomplex inlays. Even in space architecture computational methods deal with a certain curiosity about the living: the GrAB project introduced by space architect Barbara Imhof follows the notion that natural growth patterns and processes can be applied to building, for example by transferring genetically controlled growing processes of self-organizing organisms into living architecture3

  • 1. Kostas Terzidis: Expressive Form: A Conceptual Approach to Computational Design, London, New York 2003, p. 69; see also: Algorithmic Architecture, Jordan Hill 2006
  • 2. For further details of the design research at the ICD/ITKE Stuttgart see i.e.: Moritz Dörstelmann, Stefana Parascho, Marshall Prado, Achim Menges, Jan Knippers: “Integrative Computational Design Methodologies for Modular Architectural Fiber Composite Morphologies“, in: Design Agency [Proceedings of the 34th Annual Conference of the Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA)], Los Angeles 2014, pp. 219-228, DOI: 10.13140/2.1.5186.0485.
  • 3. Imhof also presented another two futuristic projects realized at the trans-disciplinary platform of Liquifer Systems Group, which deal significantly with computational issues: The design of an autonomous self-deployable habitat applicable to extreme terrestrial environments and to near-term space missions (SHEE) needs to integrate parameters related to cost reduction, to optimization of capacities, but also to human factors. Secondly, Imhof outlined the undertaking of sending a mobile robotic 3d-printer to the moon that receives digital 3d-files from earth and produces complex structures without the help of human assistance on site. For this purpose the printer uses only the material given at the place of action, so that producing easily on demand allows a self-sufficient supply within the extraterrestrial environment. Although these projects are still in their exploration and testing phase, they show the potentials of robotics, biomimetics, and simulation for tackling highly complex challenges that involve many parameters and process a huge amount of data to be exchanged. For more information about the projects of the Liquifer Systems Group see: <>.[/fn>]. In addition, Gabriele Gramelsberger gave an insight into how the parametric ideas of variation, repeatable elements, and building systems are implemented into the computer-aided design of useful organisms in synthetic biology using the principle of “brickification“. Reflecting the ethical horizon of such undertakings should also be part of the discourse on Computational Design Culture, since it does not end with the optimization of things, but reconfigures the ideas of life, design, and matter.