We continued our lecture series here at the factory last week with a visit from José Duarte, Associate Professor at the Technical University of Lisbon Faculty of Architecture. He is currently conducting research at MIT on applying design patterns and shape grammars to create computational systems for urban planning. The stated goal is to use rule-based computer-aided design and manufacturing processes to re-think the uniform housing and rigid plans. He presented work that he did 10 years ago with Alvaro Siza's Malagueira housing project outside of Lisbon.
In an attempt to recreate the variation inherent in organic urban plans and provide clients with a individualized result, Durate create what he calls a "discursive" shape grammar. This system encodes Siza's preferred proportions and design rationale into a language which can be applied in a seemingly endless number of ways (over 67 million possible combinations, actually.) What was interesting about this system was it's seeming simplicity and practicality. It builds on the work presented to us last month from Kostas Terzidis - but applies a similar computational concept in a tangible way. The web-based prototype he built, albeit almost a decade ago, accepted input parameters, such as client preferences and local zoning rules, generated solutions based on the grammar and pumped out drawings, 3D models and cost lists for each variation. This talk predictably generated the same debate as with the last lecture: who is the author of the resulting design? The architect of the design language? The designer of the system that generates the alternatives? Or, the system itself? This is not a new debate and predates the use of computers in architecture. However, based on the type of work we see being attempted by students and our customers alike, this is going to be the central debate concerning the use of computation and design in the coming years. It is an exciting time. Erik summed it up well: "I went to architecture school 15 years too early!"