Adaptive Design by Resultant Geometries

I have been passionately reading theorist Nikos Salingaros’ books recently, A Theory of Architecture, and Unified Architectural Theory: Form, Language, Complexity.  The latter title, published just last year, reinforces much of the theory behind my recent research in Diagramism, the ability for a project’s characteristics and constraints to actually form the geometry of the design.  I believe this can be accomplished by Architects through intelligent diagrams and imagery (and likely algorithms).  Since Salingaros says it quite well, I wanted to include an excerpt from Chapter 30 of Salingaros’ Unified Architectural Theory to complement my own studies.  His references to “decompositions”  are defined earlier within the chapter as: “fundamentally distinct yet overlapping subsystems.”  Or, in other words could be seen as the influencing forces or the sub-elements that contribute to a dynamic, resultant, design.

The full chapter can be seen here, published by Metropolis Magazine, August 6, 2012.


. . .designing a building involves at least five distinct system decompositions.  These could be concerned with: (1) Harmonizing the building’s exterior with its environment and avoidance of geometrical conflict, which of course includes adaptation to climate, orientation to the local solar and weather patterns, etc.  (2) Connecting the site to the circulation present in its environment  (3) shaping public spaces, from a sidewalk to one or more open plazas  (4) planning interior paths  (5) Identifying the interior spaces in relationship to each other.  There could be other relationships as well, based upon individual needs, conditions, and uses.

Each of these problems requires a system decomposition that defines a distinct type of subsystem of the entire design.  And each has to be addressed separately, at least initially.  Of course, eventually everything will have to be recombined, and a professional with experience will in practice handle all of the subsystems simultaneously.  But since this method is unusual for today’s designers, we offer this artificial separation to make the point of alternative decompositions.

Our tasks as designers is thus to optimize the functions of each subsystem so that those functions support the whole system in which they are embedded, but do not impede any alternative system decompositions.  We require adaptive selection criteria that guide the design to converge to an overall coherence (which we help along but do not dictate).  The final configuration converges neither to an “approved” image, nor to some fixed initial abstraction, but rather towards an emergent quality of the system itself as it adapts to generate strong internal and external coherence. . .

. . . Adaptive design’s principal aim is to facilitate the different components of a particular subsystem so they assemble themselves into a coherent subsystem.  For example, the conditions and uses require specific internal paths, but there is freedom in connecting them into a network – this must be done in a way consistent with all the other system decompositions.

Here is where the real novelty lies: we let each distinct subsystem develop according to rules for adaptation, and our role as designers is merely that of facilitator.  Namely, we are not going to dictate its design using any preconceived ideas or images (a shocking suggestion for contemporary practitioners), only search for the possibilities that satisfy the constraints of use, site, environment, etc.  In this way the components we have to work with will, in a real sense, “assemble themselves”.  This phenomenon is called self-organization. . .

. . . In the end we superimpose and combine all the different subsystems into a coherent whole.  Crucially, the distinct subsystems will engage in a way that makes funcitonal sense.  Again, we don’t impose our will, but simply facilitate an intimate union of all the subsystems.  In the case of a building as discussed above, there will be at least five subsystems, and these will need to merge together.

The final design will be a structural compromise among all the alternative system decompositions, which compete with each other in design space.  It is important to accept and handle this “conflictual” component of design, which arises from the need to accommodate several distinct systems, each one of which has its own optimum, but which could very easily degrade another subsystem’s functionality.  Thus, the intertwining of the distinct subsystems can only be achieved through each of the subsytems compromising to some extent.  This is how the larger whole achieves an optimum configuration.


Comments are closed.