Between Emergence and Intention

Roland Snooks

This essay is an excerpt of Behavioral Formation by Roland Snooks, published by Actar Publishers.

Emergent processes of formation create intensive, heterogeneous, intricate, complex phenomena. These processes have come to define our contemporary understanding of the nature of becoming, which stands in contrast to established notions of design and intention.

The experimental design research posited here speculates on this relationship between emergent processes of formation and architectural design intention, and explores the strange and specific qualities of the architecture that is drawn out of this interaction.

This design research operates within a larger architectural and cultural concern for complex systems and their role in algorithmic design processes. The original contribution of this work to the larger milieu is the articulation of a design process in which architectural intention is embedded within emergent processes. This is a reconceptualization of design intention as behaviors that interact in a self-organizing process of formation – Behavioral Formation. Intention, in this process, is recast as discrete, micro-scale architectural decisions, relationships, or procedures that are encoded as behaviors within multi-agent algorithms. The local interaction of these agents self-organizes architectural design intention at the macro-level.

Behavioral Formation develops, and exploits, an intricate intertwining of intention and emergence. The design intention of the architect is both encoded within algorithmic systems of emergence and operates externally to the algorithm in a feedback loop conditioned by explicit decisions and the evaluation of emergent outcomes. This approach is an important shift from the dominant contemporary architectural use of algorithms where design intention is limited solely to iterative evaluation. The implications of working through these highly iterative, non-linear, computational design processes are manifest as a compression of hierarchies, a blurring of geometric types, and the uncoupling of geometric elements from architectural roles.

RMIT Mace, 2015-2016. Detail of the titanium printed fibrous mass.

This body of work aims to establish both a behavioral approach to architectural design and to tease out the strange specificity[1] of its architecture through the interaction of self-organization and subjective intention. Ultimately, the ambition of this architectural design work is not processual; instead, it is concerned with the specific qualities, characteristics, and affects of the architecture created through this approach that exceed—but are integrally dependent upon—their generative processes.

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[1] This is discussed at greater length in the section Strange Specificity.
[2] DeLanda 1995.
[3] A short history outlining the relationship of complex systems and architecture is described in my PhD dissertation ‘Behavioral Formation: Multi-Agent Algorithmic Design Strategies’ (Snooks 2014, pp. 19-28).
[4] ‘Affect’, ‘affectual’ and ‘affective’ are used to refer to the emotional effect of architectural space on the subject; see Glossary of Terms.
[5] See Glossary of Terms.
[6] Distributed authorship in architecture, and its analogy to Web 2.0 concepts, is discussed by Mario Carpo in the essay ‘Digital Indeterminism: The New Digital Commons and the Dissolution of Architectural Authorship’ (Lorenzo- Eiroa 2013, pp. 47–51).
[7] Mario Carpo posits that Renaissance humanists, and in particular Alberti, ‘invented architecture as an art of drawing, and the notion of the modern architect as a new kind of humanist author—a thinker and maker of drawings’ (Lorenzo-Eiroa 2013, p. 48).
[8] The stopping problem was a critique of animate processes, which questioned the logic for stopping the process at any given frame or point in time.
[9] Lynn’s work has been hugely influential within generative architectural design and is an important precursor to this research. This is discussed further in the Multi-Agent Algorithms section.
[10] In particular, this is a reference to Gaudi’s catenary models and Otto’s soap-film models, which are discussed in greater detail in the Volatility section.
[11] The nature of the design intention within this body of work is most clearly described through the individual projects and their descriptions.
[12] With the growing adoption of machine learning, and the pattern recognition capacity of neural networks, the automation of pseudo-qualitative evaluation is increasingly feasible. However, this typically presupposes an a priori body of training data, which inherently limits the speculative capacity of the design search.
[13] See Glossary of Terms.
[14] Swarm intelligence is discussed in greater detail in the Behavioral Methodologies section.
[15] ‘Edge of chaos’ refers to the state of a system that is between order and chaos. This is a state of maximum complexity.
[16] Far-from-equilibrium systems are those in a state of dynamic equilibrium. The term was coined by Ilya Prigogine in relation to thermodynamics.
[17] See RMIT Mace and Babiy Yar Project sections.
[18] Holland 1999, p 3.
[19] Crutchfield 1994.
[20] The qualitative nature of Wolfram’s classifications is discussed in greater depth in the Volatility section.
[21] These formal characteristics include properties such as the curvature or local organization of parts, and their behavior can be illustrated through the example of liquid foam. In generating foam, the topology or size of the bubbles is unpredictable, but their foaminess is a stable emergent characteristic. This concept is described in greater detail in the article ‘Observations on the Algorithmic Emergence of Character’ (Snooks, in Abruzzo 2007, pp. 92–101).
[22] The Composite Wing is an example that integrates structural heuristics within a generative algorithmic process. See Composite Wing Project section.
[23] ‘Indexical’ is used to describe an object that indexes, or refers to, its process of formation in which there is a causal relationship between formation and the characteristics of the object.
[24] A critique of the purist application on indexical algorithms is outlined in the Volatility section.
[25] These projects include the RMIT Meeting Pavilion, Babiy Yar, and Malibu House. See the corresponding project sections and the Catalog of Projects.
[26] This use of geological forms is discussed in greater detail in the Strange Specificity section.
[27] See the AgentBodies Strategy section.
[28] See Catalog of Projects and NGV Pavilion Project section respectively.
[29] The messy, hairy characteristics developed in this work have been influenced by the work of Jason Payne and Francois Roche.
[30] An argument for procedural fabrication is expanded on in the Behavioral Composites Strategy and AgentBody Prototypes Project sections.
[31] See Stigmergic Robotics Strategy section.
[32] See Fibrous Tower Project section.
[33] This is the logic of describing a spline surface.
[34] Contemporary multi-objective optimization algorithms enable the negotiation of a series of different criteria; however, these algorithms are limited to dealing with quantitative rather than qualitative concerns.
[35] This discrete articulation of systems is a typical characteristic of Modern architecture, which reached its apex in British high-tech, with architects such as Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, and Nicholas Grimshaw.
[36] Although it is worth noting that structures in nature that evolve through self-organizing processes, such as the formation of bone, are highly optimal.
[37] See Catalog of Projects.