Worlds from algorithms

Characterizing it as the "science design movement," the current issue of SEED features a number of articles related to the convergence between disciplined observation - science - and design.

While fractal art has gained popularity, the use of the term "fractal architecture" in a Salon video featuring Paola Antonelli, the senior curator of Architecture and Design at The Museum of Modern Art, and Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry, attracted me.

Paola Antonelli:

What is really amazing to me right now is how contemporary architects are using the idea that is behind fractals, the idea of a rule that lets them work at different scales indifferently, at least until the moment when the real design application, the reality of the client or manufacturer wanting a building or a toaster, sets in. I am thinking, for instance, of Ben Aranda and Chris Lasch, who you may remember spoke right after you when we had the salon at MoMA. They are two architects that have founded their practice on understanding algorithms and finding ways to take scientific concepts and translate them for architecture's benefit and evolution. So, it seems to me that it is not only and simply about the formal beauty of fractals, it is the idea of growth that your theory has really given to architects and designers. And now we're seeing the algorithm become the principle, and the subject of research, for so many architects today. They're hoping that they can ultimately input an algorithm, give it a push, and then all of a sudden an object, a building, a city, and a world will grow out of it.

I'll add a couple of thoughts:

Natural objects such as ferns and blood vessels can be described in the language of fractals, which means that their unfolding can be described as an algorithmic progression. Fractals, interestingly, can produce nearly limitless two-dimensional shapes, but a finite number of things in three dimensions.

Secondly, I really appreciate Mandelbrot's description of the movement of a cognitive discipline like math toward its biological and physical roots, a point recently driven home in Pulse, a book about the "coming age" of biologically inspired design, which makes just that point about economics. There is no denying the essential natural processes that can be found in presumptively cognitive pursuits.

Paola, by the way, also created the MOMA exhibit, "Design and the Elastic Mind," mentioned previously.


Wikipedia: fractals