Morphogenetic Design

Techniques and Technologies in Morphogenetic Design

Helen Castle

Coloured X-ray of hyacinth flowers at different stages of growth. Environmentally sensitive growth can deliver a paradigm for architectural design, as discussed in ‘Computing Self-Organisation’.

The cover title of this issue, Techniques and Technologies in Morphogenetic Design, provides it with a very wide frame: morphogenesis pertains not only to the development of form and structure in an organism, but also to an organism’s evolutionary development over time.

Robotic timber-manufacturing employed for the 2005 Serpentine Pavilion, as discussed in ‘Manufacturing Diversity’.

It is, in effect, a substantial signpost that in a broad brushstroke takes in the whole gamut of natural systems, both current and in evolution. It is indicative of the not inconsiderable, some might say infinite, project that guest-editors Michael Hensel, Achim Menges and Michael Weinstock have taken on through their activities in the Emergence and Design Group and their teaching and research at the Architectural Association (aa) in London.

Laser-cut model scale 1/75 of the Jyväskylä Music and Art Centre by OCEAN NORTH, as discussed in ‘Differentiation and Performance’.

By studying the complex and dynamic exchange between organisms and their environment, they have sought out a new model for architecture – one that through the application of biochemical processes and the functionality of life is in empathy rather than at odds with natural ecology.

Proliferation and differentiation of a digital parametric component, as discussed in ‘Polymorphism ’.

By keeping their eye on this higher goal, the group is providing a prescient new ecological paradigm for architecture that seeks, through new scientific advances in the visualisation and understanding of natural processes and systems, to leave behind the known structural and material building blocks of architecture.

Double curvature resulting from differential surface actuation, as discussed in ‘Polymorphism’.

Techniques and Technologies in Morphogenetic Design expands and develops the themes of the previous, highly successful Emergence: Morphogenetic Design Strategies issue of 4 (Vol 74, No 3, 2004), which was also guest-edited by Michael Hensel, Achim Menges and Michael Weinstock of the Emergence and Design Group.

Digital structural analysis of the Jyväskylä Music and Art Centre by OCEAN NORTH, as discussed in ‘Differentiation and Performance’. From top: Vertical displacement contours for deformation produced by gravity loading; vertical displacement vector plots for deformation produced by gravity loading; plot showing the deformed shape of the structure produced by gravity loading.

While the first volume elucidated the concepts of emergence and self-organisation in relation to the discipline of architecture, this issue augments its theoretical and methodological foundation within a biological paradigm for architectural design, while also discussing promising, related, instrumental techniques for design, manufacturing and construction. Michael Hensel introduces the issue and explains how it addresses a much broader range of scales, from the molecular to that of macrostructure and, beyond, to ecological relations.

Coloured scanning electron micrograph of the underside of a leaf of the herb lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). Numerous hairs, so-called trichomes, cover the undersurface of the leaf. These hairs may have both a protective function against predators and serve to reduce evaporation from the leaf. Stomata, or pores, appear as small, green rounded structures and exchange gases and water from the leaf surface. Magnification: x 900 at 6 x 7 centimetres.

Complex adaptive systems entail processes of selforganisation and emergence. However, both concepts express very different characteristics of a system’s behaviour. Selforganisation can be described as a dynamic and adaptive process through which systems achieve and maintain structure without external control.

Coloured scanning electron micrograph of the differentiated leaf surface and leaf hairs of the rock (or sun) rose (Cistus longifolius). These trichomes guard the leaf against attack by pests, the glandular hairs, shown in yellow, producing defensive chemicals, while the other hairs shown in grey provide mechanical protection. Magnification: x 125 at 6 x 6 centimetres.

The latter does not preclude extrinsic forces, since all physcial systems exist within the context of physics, for as long as these do not assert control over intrinsic processes from outside. Common form-finding methods, for example, deploy the selforganisation of material systems exposed to physics to achieve optimisation of performance capacity.

Phyllotaxis (Greek phyllo: leaf + taxis: arrangement) is the study of the arrangement of repeated plant units and the pattern of their repetition within the same alignment. These include leaves arranged around a stem, scales on a cone or pineapple, florets in the head of a daisy, and seeds in a sunflower. Spiral phyllotaxis is a phyllotactic pattern where the elements are arranged as a spiral lattice, an arrangement of points on concentric circles with a radiusincreasing at a constant rate and with a constant (divergence) angle between successive points. The photo shows a Menzies Banksia (Banksia Menziesii) seed cone. Menzies Banksia is a shrub that produces large red flower spikes. After pollination, the seeds are produced in this cone-like structure. The cone shows a finely detailed spiral phyllotactic pattern of its unit arrangement, modified, yet not disrupted, by the larger features of the openings for seed release.

Selforganisational systems often display emergent properties or behaviours that arise out of the coherent interaction between lower-level entities, and the aim is to utilise and instrumentalise behaviour as a response to stimuli towards performance-oriented designs.

Model of rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) expressed using a context-free L-system generated with L-Studio, a software package developed at the Department of Computer Science at the University of Calgary.

Self-organising systems display capacity for adaptation in the presence of change, an ability to respond to stimuli from the dynamic environment. Irritability facilitates systems with the capacity to adapt to changing circumstances.

Adapting geometry to changing circumstances throughout the design process can be a time-consuming and costly ordeal or, on the other hand, can be anticipated and tools designed that facilitate the possibility of significant changes right up to the manufacturing stage.

Model of Indian paintbrush field generated with L-Studio. L-studio is Windows software for creating simulation models and performing virtual experiments using L-systems. The software consists of L-system-based simulators, editors and other modelling tools for creating and modifying objects, and environmental programs that simulate environmental processes that affect plant development.

Whenever the design requirements and constraints and performance profiles of a design change, it is important that the design can absorb such changes through a modifiable geometric modelling setup capable of retaining geometric relations while being substantially modified.

Coloured scanning electron micrograph of a section through the leaf of the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger). In the body of the leaf in the centre of the image are numerous cells containing chloroplasts (green). These aresmall organelles that are the site of photosynthesis within the leaf. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants use sunlight to turn carbon dioxide into sugars. Magnification: x 750 at 4 x 5 inch.

The self-organisation processes underlying the growth of living organisms can provide important lessons for architects. Natural systems display higher-level integration and functionality evolving from a dynamic feedback relation with a specific host environment.

Biologists, biomimetic engineers and computer scientists have begun to tackle research in this field and there is much to learn from their work. Here, Michael Hensel examines the work undertaken by Professor Przemyslaw Prusinkiewicz and his collaborators at the Department of Computer Science at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada,1 outlining its potential application for architectural design.

Coloured scanning electron micrograph of microcapsules (blue) that contain a phase-change material (PCM) coating fabric fibres. The PCM can absorb and release heat generated by a person wearing the fabric, warming or cooling it as required. If the wearer’s body temperature rises after exercise, the PCM absorbs the heat and melts, preventing heat reflecting back onto the body. Ifthe wearer’s temperature then falls, the PCM refreezes, releasing its absorbed heat and warming the garment. The PCM can undergo this melting/refreezing cycle almost indefinitely. PCMs are being developed by Outlast Technologies, US. Magnification unknown.

Biology is the science of life. It concerns itself with the living. The long-proclaimed biological paradigm for architectural design must for this reason go beyond using shallow biological metaphors or a superficial biomorphic formal repertoire.

The consequence is a literal understanding of the design product as a synthetic life-form embedded within dynamic and generative ecological relations. Michael Hensel examines the repercussions of this proposition and surveys current developments in biology and biochemistry with respect to synthetic-life research, gathering insights into their potential application in architectural design.

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