My concept for my design paper is based on an subsidiary of the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction, namely – reaction diffusion. If you mix certain substances together and then leave them to rest, patterns spontaneously begin to emerge.
These patterns were first noticed in the 1950’s by two Russian scientists after which the reaction is named, Belousov and Zhabotinsky. The pattern forms rings which start from an origin and make their way to the extents of the petri dish, and continue to form new rings at regular intervals. What made these reactions rather interesting is that they do not form interference patterns as would be expected from moving wave-fronts, and the chemical does not reach an equilibrium position (ie. the reaction continues indefinitely).
What is key about this process is the idea of emergence and emergent patterns. Emergence refers to how behaviours at a finer scale can influence details at a larger scale. “There is no plan, no blueprint, no instructions about the pattern that emerges. What exists in the field is a set of relationships between the components of the system such that the dynamically stable state into which it goes naturally has spatial and temporal pattern.” Ultimately the goal of emergence is to create some sort of order from an initial (chaotic) system.
So my question is,
How can architecture emerge through processes which mimic reaction diffusion systems?
And this is where things begin to get tricky. How do the dynamic properties of excitable media begin to inform a design logic. How do we represent dynamic stability in the built environment? In looking for an answer, I stumbled across a research paper entitled ‘Adaptive Morphologies‘ which began to look at this idea. One potential approach that is suggested early on is to simply grow the building out of the site, but this translates into a rather loose relationship between emergence and form articulation on site.
The paper goes on to talk about dual evolutionary strategies as being the likely way forward, ie, there needs to be a constant negotiation between the design intent and the material response. So what if we began to look at the dual evolutionary strategy in our design context? The two parties here become the form on the site and the site itself. If we look at these two parties as the mediums for our Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction, we could likely begin to understand these as two colliding substances. So what is the intention of the form, how does the site react to its intention, and then how does the form respond to the site? This dialogue between the site and the design could be the catalyst for the emergence of the form.
Another alternative proposed by Adaptive Morphologies suggests that it is the designers job to mediate between intention and emergence. The designer could be free to tune a shape by manipulating the state space of the cells, all the while iterating through the emergent process. Through this, the designer takes on a whole new relationship with the program, and has a true balancing act on his or her hands. Of course this method does not entirely lend itself to the design process as we know it, and at this stage is something better suited to conceptualisation of shape rather than as a finished state.
The other alternative is that we could look at the emergent patterns which form on the site not directly as a model, but perhaps as a representation of movement through the building to be. Hence, rather than generating a form based on where the agents move in 3D space, we begin to look at the movement of the agents in 3D space as the mapping strategy to help define the programme of the building. The benefit of doing this is that the aesthetic of the reaction diffusion process is no longer the main driver for system. This was one of the limitations I came across (outlined in an earlier post) whereby we can’t exactly create new forms from reaction diffusion processes, all the possible forms that can be created out of this system lie on a predefined boundary.
I leave you with a quote from Lance Reddick, in the TV show fringe, “At the risk of sounding sentimental, I’ve always felt there are people who can leave an indelible mark on your soul, an imprint that can never be erased.” Can we view the relationship between form and material assemblage, or design intent and emergence as an imprint that can never be erased?