Thursday, October 16, 2008

Digital Urbanism - The International Workshops

Opening Lecture:

Algorithmic Urbanism / Algorithmic Design

“How to engage all the complexity and indeterminacy of the city through the methodologies of a discipline so committed to control, separation and unitary thinking? This is the dilemma of the architect working in the city today.” Stan Allen

Using observations in urbanism, biology, digital technologies, contemporary art and the gaming industry as a starting point, the opening lecture will address the topics of emergence in self-organizing complex systems.

The premise is that with the proliferation of digital technologies we’ve entered a third stage in the history of emergence, where the forces of self-organization are no longer only recognized and studied but also artificially created and applied throughout our society.

Although algorithmic urbanism and architecture has hardly been fully explored at this point, this lecture will attempt to display the huge potential artificial emergence can have in the fields of architecture and urbanism, especially when facing the huge challenge architects and urbanists face in today’s large scale urban developments throughout the world.


The goal of this workshop is to introduce students into a new way of design that utilises algorithms and rule-based techniques in order to deal with the vast amounts of constantly varying parameters and information faced with in Urban Design. Where planning techniques based on predictive scenarios and static predetermination strategies segregate matter from the forces that shape it; these new urban computational systems enable a real-time incorporation of varying properties and parameters through the instrumentalisation of information.

Part 1: (Tampere): MEL scripting crash course

The first part of the workshop will focus purely on familiarizing students with basics of Maya Embedded Language.

Starting from the main concepts like the use of variables, loops, etc. we will be presenting and developing a series of examples and exercises together with the students that can be applied in various ways during the following stages of the workshop.

The main aim of this part is to equip students with a basic knowledge of scripting that will allow them to independently continue exploring digital design in architecture and urbanism in the future.

Part 2: (Cottbus / Lodz): Urban Application

In the second part of the workshop participants will be asked to develop possible urban solutions for a chosen fragment of the city in which they will include the application of algorithms for design and analysis. The main aim of the exercise is to familiarize the students with the tools and to test their application on a given context.

Students will choose one of the given topics and scripting exercises from Workshop Part 1 as a basis for their project.

Possible topics could be programmatic optimisation, massing, density, connectivity, growth, environmental aspects etc.

After studying the rules and logics initially used to design the chosen site, participants are asked to re-address, re-design and apply those systems in a rule-based design for the development their urbanisms. The tours around and lectures of the 3 addressed cities by local professors will provide the basis for this.

Part 3: (Cottbus / Lodz): Urban Exploration

The last part of the workshop will concentrate on testing the limitation of the previously designed system by either extrapolating the parameters or using the system for a different site. Students will have to rethink their design in order to make it adaptable for different environments and needs changing over time.


- Steven Johnson, Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities and Software, (New York: Scribner, 2001)

- Phillip Ball, Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another, (London: Arrow Books, 2005)

- Stan Allen “From object to field”, (Architectural Design: After Geometry, London: London Academy Editions nd, 1995)

- John Frazer, An Evolutionary Architecture, (London: Architectural Association ,1995)

- Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, (New York: Vintage, 1961)

- Michael Weinstock, “Morphogenesis and the Mathematics of Emergence”, (Architectural Design 169: Emergence: Morphogenetic Design Strategies, London : Academy Editions, 2004)

Cities. Architecture and Society. Catalogue to the Venice Biennale 2006. Venezia: Marsilio, 2006.

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