For architects design and architecture are tools to shape the world and make of it a more beautiful and more comfortable place to live in, so we think it is very important to ask ourselves : Is our world being shaped by algorithms or by us? This question arose a few days ago during an exchange between me and Gaëtan at Hugh Dutton Associates. After watching the talk below “How algorithms shape our world” by Kevin Slavin [ENGLISH with FRENCH subtitles - 15 minutes] Gaëtan asked : “Is that what we really want?”
If it’s not your first time on this blog you probably know that we believe in algorithms and computational design as powerful tools to improve architecture and the building process. We daily work with parametric and computational design software to make our projects responsive to their environments and able to optimize their behaviors, like any structure or being in nature does. We use data to shape our design, through algorithms, but we designers are still at the core of the creative process. We use algorithms to build forms and spaces, but everything starts from an idea we had when we were away from keyboards. We pick up that idea and start coding, then we look at the results, we make decisions and we start coding again. It’s a circular process and we make anytime a decision. The difference between this and traditional design is that now we design a process (made by algorithms) instead of designing a form.
In our recent post “is architecture a nature created by humans ?” we defined a category of things in the world that have been generated by humans but which are beyond our control. Financial systems are an example of that category, and Kevin Slavin explains in his talk how algorithms are increasingly responsible of financial fluctuations. He argues that we live in a world designed for – and increasingly controlled by – algorithms and he warns that we are writing codes we can’t understand, with implications we can’t control. He thinks that there is a real danger that we could build a world that is not anymore under our control. I understand that fear but I also want to share a question with you readers:
A world beyond our control : are we sure this is necessarily a bad thing?
Are we sure that this is something really new?
Hasn’t nature been always beyond our control ?
Below you’ll find another recommended video [ENGLISH - 41 minutes] about coding with a different focus and a more enthusiastic and optimistic tone, exploring the creative possibilities expanded by open source coding tools like “processing“and the importance of their growing online communities. “Hello World! Processing” – this is the title of the video – is a documentary on creative coding that explores the role played by experimentation, algorithm and processing in this creative field, featuring artists, designers and code enthusiasts. Based on a series of interviews to some of the leading figures of the Processing open programming platform community, the documentary is built as a continuous stream of archived references, projects and concepts shared by this community (BTW, it includes an excerpt of the TED talk above).