The Nature of Computational Things

In Frédéric Migayrou Brayer & Marie-Ange (eds.), Naturalizing Architecture. Orléans: HYX Editions. pp. 96-105 (2013)
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Architecture often relies on mathematical models, if only to anticipate the physical behavior of structures. Accordingly, mathematical modeling serves to find an optimal form given certain constraints, constraints themselves translated into a language which must be homogeneous to that of the model in order for resolution to be possible. Traditional modeling tied to design and architecture thus appears linked to a topdown vision of creation, of the modernist, voluntarist and uniformly normative type, because usually (mono)functionalist. One available instrument of calculation/representation/prescription orders this conception of architecture: indeed the search for an optimal solution through mathematical calculation of a model itself mathematical, thus homogeneous and simple, is only possible when one or two functions or functional constraints are formulated, never more, and this, on a global level, therefore starting from a unique and homogenizing viewpoint. It is essential to grasp that, even applied to material and its properties or towards a particular esthetic or functional dimension, this viewpoint is thus abstractive and generalizing: disregarding singularity of context, insertion and relationship to the environment or local, social behavior. It leaves aside functional specificity and heterogeneousness – re-contextualized each time – of functions that the object or edifice are required to fulfill and optimize under diverse constraints, in their different parts. The computational turning point today’s digital design and computational architecture embody modifies these instrumental, original prescriptions, rendering them more flexible. Perhaps in light of this turnabout we should retrospectively interpret 20th century calls for modernism, functionalism and even biomorphism as being just as many ex post rationalizations in respect to techniques of strongly prescriptive modeling since our only instrument is a monolithic language, and so being, incites a top-down conception, (naturally weakly reactive to contexts), including forms whose overall appearance resembles in fine a living form. In order to liberate oneself from this and despite everything, emerge as its initiators, one has constructed from ideology and philosophy (of object, habitat, the urban) ex post, even while it is the instrument of modeling and conception that largely determines, normalizes and dictates ex ante, the possibilities and limitations of the creation of forms and living experiments4 in a given time.
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