Lira Nikolovska, a fellow Interaction Designer on BIM Platform Team, has been organizing a sort of informal lecture series here at the factory. Yesterday, we were pleased to host Kostas Terzidis, PhD, Associate Professor of Architecture at Harvard Graduate School of Design. Professor Terzidis has a background in computer science (he was one of the original developers of form-Z) and architecture. His focus is on how architecture can be generated and influenced by computation, which he distinguishes from computerization - using the computer to simply facilitate the study formal compositions. He is strongly critical of the decade-plus trend in computer-generated blobitecture (In the introduction to his book Expressive Form, he describes this trend using words like "arbitrary," "vague," and "caricature.") Terzidis instead proposes using rule-based algorithmic computation to generate and evaluate a multitude of options. The key to this approach is the use of rules - which can take the form of pragmatic building codes, geometric patterns, or formal design patterns - to present to the architect combinations they may not have arrived at themselves. These options are then culled and selected based on specific criteria. This generated debate amongst the architects in the room. What about the ideal of the architect as individual genius? Is this simply the computer replacing the architect? My personal take: it all depends on how far you want to take this concept. The key is in the selection criteria. Taken to a logical extreme, one could attempt to boil every single design decision in a building down to rules to be generated and analyzed solely by the machine. This idea is not entirely new. Nicholas Negroponte explored "architecture without architects" in the 1973 Soft Architecture Machines. I do not think this is plausible or preferable. Instead, I see these algorithms as simply another tool, the selection criteria is still dependent on the aesthetic sensibility of the architect. An algorithm may provide all n possible fenestration combinations for a facade - the architect still chooses.
How does this apply to Revit, or BIM in general? I am not sure yet. Revit's strength in the face of many generalized tools has been it's specificity. When you click Wall, you know what you will get. But when you break it down, its all geometry, parameters, and rules. So one could imagine using parameters to drive the creation of a multitude of design "branches" that can be deterministically pruned and combined as designs progress. It is surely a fascinating topic that really cuts to the core of most contemporary design disciplines.