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What method, what system, does an architect use to design a building? How are programmatic needs and context – with their degrees of freedom and constraints – translated into architectural design?
Regardless of their complexity, the tasks and decisions involved can be formalized as an algorithm. As such, algorithms provide a framework for articulating and defining both input data and procedures. This formalization can promote structure and coherency, while systemically maintaining full traceability of all input.
In recent years, algorithms in architecture have been able to transcend their role as frameworks of formalization and abstraction. This has been made possible in a large part by the integration of scripting languages into CAD programs. Algorithms’ output can now be directly visualized, and through digital fabrication methods this output can be built.
This opens up a new role for algorithms as a design tool. As such, they provide the benefits of depth and breadth. On the one hand, their computational power can address processes with a scale and complexity that precludes a manual approach. On the other hand, algorithms can generate endless permutations of a scheme. A slight tweaking of either the input or the process leads to an instant adaptation of output. When combined with an evaluative function, they can be used to recursively optimize output on both a functional and aesthetic level.
Yet beyond this, a computational approach to architecture enables the generation of the previously unseen. Forms that can longer be conceived of through traditional methods become possible. New realms open up.
The projects presented seek to explore algorithms and computation as a generative design tool, and to merge these with existing design processes to produce a new architectural form.
Michael Hansmeyer is an architect and programmer who explores the use of algorithms and computation to generate architectural form. He is currently based in the CAAD group at ETH’s architecture department in Zurich. He holds an MBA degree from Insead Fontainebleau as well as a Master of Architecture degree from Columbia University. He previously worked with McKinsey & Company, J.P. Morgan, and at Herzog & de Meuron architects
Michael Hansmeyer Unveils Insanely Complex Plastic Columns with 16 Million Unique Facets
Michael Hansmeyer, the genius behind the most complex architecture ever created, is back at it again – this time with 9 foot columns made from plastic rather than cardboard. On display now at the Gwangju Design Biennale 2011, the Sixth Order installation is a series of four amazingly intricate columns created through a process Hansmeyer calls computational architecture. An algorithm creates the model, which includes an astounding 16 million unique facets, which are then CNC cut from plastic sheets. While the columns look like something unearthed out of a crypt, they are surprisingly strong and Hansmeyer’s techniques have the potential to revolutionize architecture and construction as we know it.
Hansmeyer’s process involves creating an algorithm to design the structure of the Doric column. In the case of the Gwangju Design Biennale installation, none of the four columns share a single surface or motif in common. Yet, when grouped together, they clearly work as a cohesive grouping because of their material and their shared fabrication process. The design for each 9 ft column is subdivided into 2,700 horizontal layers, which are then cut into ABS plastic by a CNC machine. These layers are hollowed out and stacked and held in place with a dual iron and wood core.
The Sixth Order installation draws on Hansmeyer’s work from earlier this year, which involved a very similar process, but was carried out with cardboard. By working with ABS plastic, Hansmeyer could achieve a higher cutting resolution, which gave hima smoother and less jagged surface, resulting in a effect more like carved ice than carved wood. For the installation, there are actually only four columns on display, but a series of mirrors gives the effect that there are actually 16, allowing visitors to appreciate every side.
The meat of Hansmeyer’s work is more than just creating amazing sculptures with advanced techniques. His work could really change the way we design and build structures. At the intersection of math and materials is increased efficiency in terms of resources, strength, and any number of qualities we hope to achieve. The key to sturdier, more earth resistant structures could lie in creating the right algorithms. We could also maximize structural integrity while minimizing material use. In essence, Hansmeyer is laying the foundation for a whole new way to think about materials, architecture, and construction.
Images ©Michael Hansemeyer