_Design as Scientific Thinking

_Systems of Communication and Control


At the framework of urban morphogenesis that the current academic stream in UD2 is planning to develop we would like to propose a theory and histories strand that will attempt to map speculative links across the disparate fields of urbanism, science, technology and philosophies. If we perceiving and conceiving cities as complex dynamic systems the aim of the theoretical investigation will be to trace the interweaved threats that made this conception and understanding possible. For that matter we propose to explore ideas and concepts in Architectural and Urban theories and projects of the last sixty years as they have been coupled by developments in science, technologies and socio-cultural processes. Our aim is not to unfold those stories in a linear manner, like in a chronological order, but to focus on events and encounters where one has informed the other in a coupling mechanism.  Therefore, we will not bring those disparate fields together by generalising their aspect and by generalising their effects and affects on architecture and urbanism. We do invest on encounters; choreographies that at points slip to improvisation and radical speculation. It is to our understanding that this way of practising history brings its analytical and generative aspect together as an adequate form to understand and intervene in the complexity of urban morphogenesis.

Additional to that, we propose to weave, through histories and theories of technologically mediated urbanism, what Rosi Braidotti would call the “roar which lies on the other side of the urbane, civilised veneer”, the “Spinozist indicator of the raw cosmic energy that underscores the making of civilisations, societies and their subjects”(2013). We would like to gradiently reveal a post-human sensitivity for a Post-Anthropocene emerging world. With this Post-positivist and post-human approach we propose to replay the history of urbanism as being affected and effected by extremely important technological advances in computing. From picturesque settlements and favelas to computer mediated utopias and robotically constructed urban grafts, themes of systems, cybernetics and feedback mechanisms will be explored. The mutations of those concepts will be traced as important ideas of emergence and self-organisation lead the discussions on complexity and dynamic systems theory. We aim to take a side step avoiding trapping urban design and its morphogenesis in a simplistic “bottom-up” approach where all that exist are self-organising processes of corporeal and incorporeal topologically oriented state of affairs. Instead we would like to illustrate the position of the highly speculative dimension of algorithms and computations intrinsic to them and adequate to rethink urbanism in a new post-anthropocene era. For that matter an ethical practice of hacking is introduced in systems level and at the same time its anthropocentrism is being displaced. Hacking is proposed to be considered not merely as a human praxis but as an ethological modality of algorithmic bodies. Eco-logical agency and patiency permeated by ecological protocols will be discussed and developed as possible alternatives for processing pressing urban issues.


We propose to start on the decisive moment where computation, computing and the idea of computers were moved from rooms and human labour to Alan Turing’s abstract mathematical conception of Universal Turing Machines. Coupled at that time with the devastating outcomes of the WWII, philosophy, science, arts, architecture and urbanism were faced with challenges to restore, reinterpret and re-imagine human futurity. At that context, we will discuss Systems Theory and the birth of Cybernetics based on Turing’s conception and scientific developments during the wartime that sprung humanity to multiple research agendas; agendas that from one hand aimed to explore behaviour and to the other hand to manage and control  it through feedback loops. We will point towards the emergence of the linguistic turn at the beginning of the century that shaped research after the war with a notable examples that of structuralism, Artificial Intelligence and later that of post-structuralism. The Introduction of automated machines in the everyday life will be the base for the discussion on utopian urbanism of Constant and the Radical Italians of Archizoom and Superstudio. Discussions form there will be expanded to the British appropriation of the theme of Cybernetics with figures like Ross Ashby, Stanford Beer and Gordon Pask presented as progenitors of the research programme of Artificial Life as considerably different from that of AI across the Atlantic. Gordon Pask as a prominent Cybernetician becomes the driving force that mostly affects British avant-gardism as being expressed by Cedric Price and Archigram’s conception of walking urbanism.

Ideas on Growth will be discussed, as an imperative after the war, not merely on D’Arcy Thompson's theories of growth and form but on the recursive functions implicit in Turing’s machines. From the unplanned settlements of picturesque villages to recursive trees of Lindenmayer and from there to the controlled growth of Metabolists the idea of growth is linked with processes of low-level local interactions.

Self-organising phenomena will be the base of the explosion of the Artificial Life research that will culminate its presence in the first “Workshop on the Synthesis and Simulation of Living Systems” at the Los Alamos National Laboratory at 1987. Paul S. Coates, Bill Hillier, Michael Batty and John Frazer will introduce self-organising models simulated on computers into the discipline of architecture and the urban design. The Alpha-Syntax model developed by Coates and Hillier, that simulates local rules of picturesque settlements in France, will be the seed for the successful research that later will be named Space-Syntax.

Emergent urban patterns of these simulated growth models will provide the ground to discuss emergence as concept that its importance spans from complexity theory to biological and evolutionary phenomena and to computer simulations and material systems. Through computer models like cellular automata, agent-based models, evolutionary processes simulated by genetic algorithms and artificial neural networks, we will discuss the idea of “mechanism independent”(Delanda, 2011) as it is recently introduced by Manuel Delanda as a component of the explanation and understanding of emergence. That would allow us to reposition the ethics of emergence as not merely focused on the spontaneous presence of novelties but at the presence of singular events as capacities that actualise those novelties. Recent developments in biological systems and computation will allow us to highlight these points and their possible effects on the conception that we have formed about urban developments as complex and dynamic processes; processes that provide the capacities for new forms and spatialities to emerge.

Unpacking those three concepts in their eco-logical milieus we aim to approach urban morphogenesis in its historical depths and future lines of flight. Establishing this stochastic methodology with its components of encounters of a historical analysis, we aim to move in a space with no coordinates capable to form speculative links between developments in different scientific fields, urban theories and practices. An historical understanding that will allow the students to be involved in a cutting edge experimental and transdisciplinary programme that the academic stream of Urban Morphogenesis is aiming to pursue.



Braidotti, R.(2013) The Posthuman. Polity Press, Cambridge, UK. p.55

Delanda, M.(2011) Philosophy and Simulation: The Emergence of Synthetic Reason. Continuum International Publishing Group, London, UK. p.17 



Possible Lectures:

./ programming.urbanism

./ The mystery of the machines that invents itself: notes on growth and morphogenesis

./ Computing the post-vernacular: parables of the post-anthropocene

./ Hacking the symb(i/o)tic city


Series of Seminars:

./ Computer Code and the City

./ Performance and Re/Presentation: Recursion and Repetition explained

./ The Cybernetic City: from the city as autopoietic system to machinic assemblages
./ Evolving the City

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