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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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Tonight I attended a lecture on "Algorithmic Architecture" by Kostas Terzidis at Taliesin West. Terzidis, a Harvard professor and former software engineer, is interested in the intersection of architecture and technology—mainly the role that computers play in automating much of the design aspects of architecture.

He spent much of his lecture philosophizing about this crossroads we find ourselves approaching. In contradictory fashion, he opined that there is nothing new, only recycled ideas and forgotten truths, while arguing that computers have enabled us to realize designs that were impossible just decades ago. That increase reliance on computer power has divorced us from the practice of architecture while bubbling over the inevitable supplanting of the creative process. Honestly, it wasn't terribly different from some of the incoherent rhapsodies of Frank Lloyd Wright.

The idea of automating the creative process intrigued me greatly though. At first, I was troubled by the mechanization of design. On the surface, it seems to obviate the individualistic architect, the creator of greatness. But upon pondering it more, I think that there's no reason why the stamp of the architect has to go away.

The future of architecture as programming is one where a program is written that takes all the variables and constraints of the architectural problem and devises thousands of buildings that solve it. Site topography, materials, budget, number of rooms, central plant, and so on are just inputs to be considered. While this seemingly diminishes the role of the architect, I think it could easily maintain his part.

Perhaps each programmer qua architect would codify his aesthetic sense in different ways or assign different weights to the various considerations. In so doing, the designs his program generates might look all of a same piece and his particular theme shines through. His job, then, becomes one of practiced selection of the best design combination.

It's going to be awhile before such a transformation of the trade takes place due to the massive increase in computing power necessary to effect it. But it seems inevitable and inexorable.