One of the great lessons of the 20th Century that our particular generation of architects has inherited is our appreciation of the infra-thin scale: the primal math containing the profound secrets to all animate matter. Whether it is the splitting of the atom, or the isolation of the DNA strand in the first half of the century, or more recently discoveries surrounding the genome project, collectively they represent within their own respective disciplines the smallest increment of information necessary to recreate all possible expressions in the game of life. The significant value for architecture lies in our capacity to speculate upon biological mimesis as a new paradigm for both material and programmatic behavior. In other words, world history has entered into a radical phase where the very destiny of life as we know it can now be altered by reconfiguring the “computational logics” of natural selection. Beyond the profound ethical consequences of these considerations — which clearly need to be addressed — the significance of these advances for contemporary material practices resides in the infinite performative scenarios available in the creation of sentient matter.
Auto Braids / Auto Breeding
Today we confront an accelerated technological revolution unparalleled in modern times. The pursuit of electronic networks aimed at overcoming the inhibiting effects of distance has irreversibly altered the accepted protocols of vision and thereby its corresponding value. In this project of erasing distance, the loss of the real becomes synonymous with speed. Appearances are liquidated and swiftly reabsorbed into the endless disciplinary logic of commodified skins. The challenge for architecture is to develop a corresponding theory: one that mediates between aesthetics of the inert and energy to excess; between the limit and transgression. As Foucault wrote, “Its model is that of a perpetual battle rather than a contract regulating transaction or the conquest of a territory. A power exercised rather than possessed: it is not the privilege acquired or preserved, but the overall effect of its strategic positions.”
Take today’s “travel gear” as an example: a heterogeneous collection of portable, exotic hardware, permitting the individual an extraordinary degree of personal autonomy, mobility, information and control. Alluringly soft and hard, crisp or curved, glossy or grained, slippery or matte, convex or concave, these streamlined, ergonomically precise vehicles represent the infinite range of topological blends that are available to us.
Now that membrane technology can effectively re-enact a broad range of sentient expressions (for example, elastic modification, climatic adjustment, and material responsiveness from memory retention), these “imitations” challenge the conventional precept that inorganic bodies are distinctly separate from their organic counterparts. Biologically mimetic and artificially intelligent, these life-like specimens represent an entirely new synthetic ecology. No longer simple inanimate objects, they are an indispensable extension of our desire to bring architecture to life.
In appreciation of this shift towards the “play of surface,” Auto Braids / Auto Breeding (a “display-scape” specifically fabricated for our exhibition of Jean Prouvé’s modular systems) set out to produce just such an instance of biological mimesis. Faithful to the proposition that all topological behavior is ultimately determined by its base mathematical logics, we began to look for an ideal computational unit capable of initiating infinite variation throughout the replicating process. Unlike the early modernist conception of the building block as a continuous reinstatement of sameness leading to generic patterns of pure unadulterated repetition, our “digital module” was conceived as an iterative seedling, part of a larger “field operation.” In other words, the discrete iconographic image of the repetitive unit made popular during the early years of mass production was purposefully suppressed here in favor of an “intelligent behavior” — the measure of our unit’s value was determined by its ability to initiate multiple affiliations within a changing aggregative context. As a singular isolated wave pattern, its deceptively simple collection of local topological characteristics functioned as the base material for the production of a larger, continuously changing “sea of surface intensities.”
Inspired by Jean Prouvé’s commitment to the most advanced technology of his time and the legendary contributions he made to the development of modular systems, the exhibition installation set out to reinterpret these conceptual directives from a new and contemporary perspective within the theoretical aims of Auto-Braids / Auto-Breeding. Celebrating the current opportunities afforded by high-end 3-D modeling software and five-axis rapid prototyping milling, a series of interlocking modular elements were produced for assembly as an exhibition “display-scape”. Offered as one continuous surface and capable of varying spatial configurations due to changing programmatic and contextual requirements, this new topological terrain represents a universal meta-stage for the entire collection of artifacts. Through the rigorous and changing assignment of destination, sequence, and proximity an endless scenerio of conceptual affiliations are achieved. Each offering a subtle or dramatic reinterpretation of their professed value in history. Intended to function as a curatorial game board, this new membrane and its matrix of landing sites serves to offer a range of recombinatory flexibility ideal for any collection continuously undergoing change.
The simultaneous pursuit of curatorial and topological “multiplicity” inherent in Auto-Braids / Auto-Breeding represents a much larger architectural aspiration beyond the limits of the gallery. It concerns the future development and application of ‘biological mimesis’ as a new paradigm for architectural production. As we enter through this new phase of morphogenetic and technological expansion we unleash a range of material and programmatic opportunity capable of altering the very destiny of architecture.