The ‘Fitness of Poli(tic)s’ (UTS | MArch studio | Spring 2015) was led by Paul Wintour as an embedded practice studio. The studio attempted to recalibrate the tenuous yet interconnected agency between architecture and economy by questioning ‘architectural fitness’. It was the studio’s hypothesis that by developing new fitness criterions, architecture can embrace and exploit the current city ranking system in order to improve the built environment. Through the use of genetic algorithms, multiple fitness criterions were aggregated in an attempt to quantify what constitutes good architecture.
Modernism had a rational program: to share the blessings of science and technology, universally. Recent decades, however, have shown that Modern architecture can just as easily be deployed to work against its original ideology. No longer is the “economy of means” a way to provide buildings efficiently for the largest number of people, but rather a way to reduce cost and maximise profits.(Reinier de Graaf, 7 May 2015)
35 years ago, the simultaneous election of Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher triggered a global case of economic liberation. Since then, cities have become the product of a simple equation between developers and city governments, where the development of the city and the development of the economy is one and the same. As cities vie to compete on this economic playing field, one can witness that buildings and cities have become standardised with little thought for urban space.
No longer are architects defining the visions of cities. Today cities are planned by the likes of Price Waterhouse Coopers (accountants), Jones Lang LaSalle (real estate), and McKinsey & Company (management). Their primary aim is for the city to rise up the indices in the context of global competition amongst cities. One such index is the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) liveability rankings, which reduces global cities to a series of indicators based on: Economic growth and stability; Healthcare; Culture and environment; and, Education and infrastructure. Cities are therefore no longer defined by space, but by other metrics.
Housing as financial return
Consequently, the built environment and in particular housing, has acquired a fundamentally different role. From a means to providing shelter, it has become a means to generate financial return. A building is no longer something to use, but to own – with the hope of increased asset-value, rather than use-value, over time. Buildings become part of an economic exchange cycle: conceived for the lowest possible cost, traded for the highest possible sum. In this context, Modern architecture’s original mission – an affordable living standard for all – largely proves counterproductive.
The failure of the instant city, from Melbourne’s Docklands to London’s Canary Wharf clearly illustrates this phenomenon. Due to an out-dated agency between investor, designer and government, the original architectural vision is slowly eroded way to make way for greater economic returns. These decisions are validated through a series of metrics, creating a ‘tick box’ culture to satisfy the lowest common dominator. If a building has a high net to gross efficiency and achieves a 6-star Green Star rating, the project is considered a success. Unfortunately, all too often these measures underscore how contemporary architects validate their work. Stripped of its ideological dimension, buildings are presented as performative, without a comprehensive understanding of the overall fitness.
In this world we are living in, 98% of everything that is built and designed today is pure shit. There’s no sense of design, no respect for humanity or for anything else. They are damn buildings and that’s it.(Frank Gehry, 24 October 2014)
This will be an advanced course aimed at expanding both design and computational methodologies. While scripting is not a pre-requisite, basic knowledge of Rhino is expected, along with a willingness to engage with computational design. Students will be required to attend a mandatory weekend computational master class at the beginning of semester which will introduce them to the digital tools required for the semester. Specifically, students will learn and master ‘Galapagos’, the evolutionary solver within Grasshopper, and ‘Elefront’, a plug-in for managing model data and interaction with Rhino objects.
Through the lens of morphogenesis, we will explore the notion of ‘fitness’ and its context to architectural design. It will be argued that through the definition of fitness, architecture can embrace and exploit the current city ranking system in order to improve the built environment. By the end of the semester, students will be required to have developed a comprehensive generic algorithm, and tested this in various proto-typical scenarios.
Genetic algorithms mimic the theory of evolution by employing the same trial-and-error methods that nature uses in order to arrive at an optimised result. When automated for specific parameters and results, this technique becomes an effective way to computationally drive controlled results within the iterative design process. Genetic algorithms essentially consist of two parts: the ‘Genome’ which are the input parameters; and ‘Fitness’ which is the output. As we change a genome, the state of the model changes and it either becomes better or worse (depending on what we’re looking for). So as Genome A changes, the fitness of the entire model goes up or down. But for every value of A, we can also vary Gene B, resulting in better or worse combinations of A and B. Once we know how fit every genome is, we can make a hierarchy from fittest to lamest.
For genetic algorithms to work in Galapagos, a single fitness value needs to be calculated. This ability to synthesis a complex arrangement of sometime contradictory requirements is an immense task. So how can this be calculated? Students will first study various global cities and key precedent projects. This will be the framework in which out genetic algorithms will operate. Next, the studio will debate, what constitutes good design? Students will be required to take a stance on what they believe is ‘the spirit of the age’ for architecture in 2015. These will be our fitness criterions and students will be required to develop a methodology in which these criterions can be quantified. By feeding these fitness criterions into a genetic algorithm, an overall architectural fitness can be measured which takes into consideration all criterions simultaneously.