The design paper I am currently working on is called processing. In this paper, we look at how we can apply processes which occur in the natural world into architecture through the use of parametric tools like grasshopper.

During our processing design paper last year, we looked into the material properties of wax, specifically how it reacted to being melted and then cooled to varying degrees. And in the last few days, I have been working on a technique in grasshopper which is to some extent reproducing those results. So I did a few iterations and thought I’d post up the results of the digital wax models.

This technique was birthed out of my trying to intentionally ‘break’ kangaroo simulations, something which I would encourage you to try if you are an avid grasshopper user. When you try and push the boundaries of a simulation, interesting things can happen. in essence, I tried to rapidly change the tension of a mesh in kangaroo. This, in conjunction with a bit of magic to avoid self collisions in the engine, produced some much more raw results. Then it was just a matter of applying a little bit of smoothing over the top of the mesh (note: iterative smoothing, not subdividing) to even out some of the larger creases that had formed, and voila! The following results were produced!

Here are my presentation boards for my final outcome. For an overview of the entire process, click here. For a brief explanation, follow along.

In a nutshell, my project worked with a process called reaction diffusion. A process which is generated by mixing Bromium and an acid. In doing so, the chemicals interact to form incredibly mesmerising patterns. and these patterns formed the basis for generating an architectural form.

The resulting architecture was something which exhibited a growth-like aesthetic, forming a coral-like looking structure. The benefit to using reaction diffusion for this process was the amount of variation that could be achieved by ever so slightly adjusting certain parameters in the initial set up. The final output, perhaps lacked architectural definition, but there is certainly a wealth of other possibilities that could be afforded to us by further exploring the possibilities of this phenomenon.

This project was all about the process of reaction diffusion. My key question moving through this project was:

How can the process of reaction diffusion inform architectural design?

In order to explain this there are several fundamental elements that need to be explained, for starters, here is what reaction diffusion looks like:

So what is reaction diffusion? In a nutshell, reaction diffusion is a physical process which exhibits wave-front like motion based off an initial seed of points inside a closed system. However it exhibits a very interesting property (which was discovered by the Russian Scientists Beloussov and Zhabotinsky in the 1950’s) in that when wave-fronts meet, they do not add together to form a superposition, but rather nullify eachother, creating a void space.

Secondly, Stephen Wolfram defined a system called classes of complexity which explains the level of organisation that a closed system will reach on its own accord. There are four classes in this definition:

  • Class 1 – patterns evolve into a stable equilibrium
  • Class 2 – Most of the patterns evolve into a stable or oscillating state – most of the randomness is filtered out, but some remains
  • Class 3 – patterns begin to evolve in a seemingly random manner, localised noise filters out much of the initial randomness
  • Class 4 – patterns reach extreme complexity, but remain in a state of perpetual evolution. The patterns which emerge are never fully resolved.

Reaction diffusion exists in a class 4 capacity according to Wolfram’s system, and it was this notion that provoked my interest in the idea of dynamic stability. Particles in reaction diffusion systems move in and out of patterns, to quote Brian Goodwin, “If [the system] moves inot the chaotic regime, it will come out again in its own accord, and if it strays too far into the ordered regime it will tend to melt back into dynamic fluidity where there is a rich but labile order, one that is inherently unstable and open to change.”

Thirdly, the results of a reaction diffusion process exist in a boundary known as the uskate world. The above graph is an illustration of what the outcome will look like based on two values, F – the Flow rate of particles (the vertical parameter), and k – the kill rate of particles (the horizontal parameter). This ultimately means that reaction diffusion processes are deterministic, the process is not arbitrary and the results will conform to an expected outcome.

So the first thing I started working with was reaction diffusion in a 2D system (see above, or earlier post). Immediately this created a strong sense of an architectural language, almost forming a plan with discernible void spaces and passages, but I really wanted to push it further.

The above images show how I was able to get reaction diffusion working in a 3D system, so now I could simulate 3D wave-fronts. This process however did not lend it self extremely well to architecture as it tended to create very tight and closed off results.

However I did find a region of the uskate world (F = 0.0140, k = 0.0450) in which the result really began to open up and became more suitable for architectural purposes (above). And I also did some 3D prints of these as I thought having these in the tangible form could inspire something more (below).

At this moment, the process changed dramatically. Up until now, I had been working with the hope that the architecture would emerge from the process I was carrying out, but ultimately, I would have to move in manually and examine the the spaces on my own.

So next, I tried to extract individual moments inside the 3D reaction diffusion blocks that I thought had more architectural potential, and then out of that, cataloged the better results (above). However, I felt this moved too far from what reaction diffusion actually represented, as I would have to composite these elements which I found into a greater structure, and it would no longer be representative of that process.

So I moved back to the 2D forms. and found an interesting occurrence in that the individual 2D layers of reaction diiffusion could be stacked up to create a 3D extruded form like the ones shown above. Below are two animations which describe this process in 2D and the latter the translation into a 3D form.

This lent itself to architecture better than a lot of the other things I’d tried, forming a natural canopy like structure that could be experienced as a courtyard upon entry into the building. Furthermore, an interesting result was the surface articulation that resulted from this method. After doing an investigation into the different kinds of surface articulation provided by this method, I settled on the one pictured below. For me, it represented the process best, giving the impression of growth and an almost coral-like appearance.

I really wanted this to manifest itself inside the building too, and I did this in two ways. The first was how the space was created inside.

In the plans I tried to form a closed perimeter which did not intersect with any of the reaction diffusion matter. I then used this perimeter line to excavate everything inside it, leaving behind a cleaner resulting space. Interestingly, this method does not create a closed shell, but it creates one completely continuous form.

The other thing I did was to extrude some of the reaction diffusion matter through the lower floor, creating raised elements all over the plan which people would need to negotiate as they navigated the building.

And lastly, I left some reaction diffusion matter fully extruded through to the top floor in order to create some spatial division, and also to designate where my spa pools and changing rooms would be placed.

So what did the critics think?

Overall, the project was good, but the final output was somewhat lacking. Naturally, with a paper called processing, my focus for a lot of this semester was on how far the process could be pushed. This for me meant that I did not put enough emphasis on the architectural side of things and it was indeed quite rushed. This is where a lot of the criticism lay. I had done a lot of iteration with the raw form, but not nearly enough for different architectural arrangements.

However that said, the critics felt that despite having done a lot of form finding over the semester, there was still a lot more that could be done with a process of this kind. This of course they recognised as a time constraint of the 12 week semester, but it would be interesting to see where this could end up if I were to continue it.

One idea that I’m interested in that was suggested by one of the critics was to observe what would happen if ‘obstalces’ were to be included in the simulation in processing. These obstacles could be the spatial definition, and then the reaction diffusion matter could be grown/simulated around these objects. This would almost certainly be better than going into the model later on and attempting to post-rationalise the spaces that I would want to create.

The hardest part without a doubt, in working with reaction diffusion has been to try and extract an architecture out of it. The difficulty came in several places. Firstly, towards the end of my experiments, the result was often very high in its polycount, with some of the meshes being in excess of 6 million polygons, because of this, the main programs I’d worked with to date, namely 3ds max and rhino couldn’t cut into the geometry very well, with the results often failing, so I had to try something else.

I ended up having a brief tinker with zbrush, which proved to be far more effective with high polycounts, but also allowed me to reduce the polycount by almost 95% while still maintaining a good geometric representation. Furthermore, I was able to use zbrush to cull away interior structure inside the reaction diffusion model, here’s the result.

The trouble I have with this option is that the result is extremely untidy, and it takes away a lot from what reaction diffusion is actually supposed to be, furthermore there is no methodology behind it, and lastly, the renders really don’t come out great at all.

Back to the virtual drawing board…

I wanted to do one more 3D print before this semester came to a close seeing as it wasn’t looking likely that I would have a final model ready for design review/crit. By this point I’d settled on a particular region of the occurrences of reaction diffusion, but I changed the scale to create something extremely dense as compared to the previous one. Both models have an inherent beauty to them, but the intricacy in this one was far more exciting!

However because of the smaller scale, it did mean that the 3D print result wasn’t as clean as before. The printer I printed these on tends to work well with models of a thickness of around 2mm, and parts of this model I produced were approaching 0.8mm, but it still managed to print it just fine, it just made the clean up work a little tougher than it should have been.

I’ve finally been able to garner more control over the reaction diffusion process, I can now control the seed number, chemical origin, speed of the reaction, scale of the reaction, the Flow and kill rate, the size of the mesh output, and the iteration steps between successive frames. In the model below, I worked with a simple polar array to create the form. But having done this, the possibility for more complex arrays is certainly achievable, and this takes me one step closer to realising architectural form.

I went back to an earlier method of reaction diffusion whereby the model is created in 3 Dimensions through a method of time based extrusion, which creates a model layer upon layer of the current reaction diffusion frame. I did this 3D print at a very fine scale, so the result came out super clean! What was also great about this 3D print is that it required no structure whatsoever in order to print, so it produced a very very clean model!

For the most part this semester, I’ve been simulating reaction diffusion in processing, and today I stumbled across a really intriguing simulation which I wanted to save out as I think it demonstrates a few things about my project rather well. For starters, you can immediately see how the chemical diffuses and subsequently reacts with the particles in the system. Secondly, the wavefronts moving through the simulation can be seen and differentiated rather clearly from each other as bands of a similar lightness/darkness. Thirdly, I love the aesthetic that it produces, it rather closely resembles a CAT scan in my mind, and this is the aesthetic I will be working with moving into final bits and presentation next week.

Getting into the final stages of this project, I’m trying to find a form to settle on. Having learnt how to manipulate the seed generation of the reaction diffusion model, here’s an attempt to bring the programme directly into the model.

I like the cone shapes that this model produces, however it looks too similar across the whole set, so I need to work out how to increase the variation. But I can begin to imagine the lighting condition that would result on the interior of these forms, especially with light streaming through the openings at the top and down the sides. The program translation needs a bit more work though.

There were a few means by which I imagine reaction diffusion can ‘successfully’ translate into ‘architecture’.

The first is to look at reaction diffusion for the architectonics it provides, the spaces, the archways and passages, the windows and levels, and then to manually merge these together into a form of my choosing. The reaction diffusion system is far too unpredictable to be able to extract a direct architectural form out of it. This method tends to reject the parametric approach however, which I’m not entirely sure I want to do. However the 3D system does create some of the more interesting and variable elements.

The next method is to look at reaction diffusion as a series of linkages. Because reaction diffusion creates differentiable and regularly occurring bands of matter, these can be interpreted as a set of pathways which flow through the entire space. Furthermore, the wavefronts which are produced by a reaction diffusion system do not form superpositions, ie. They don’t add together, rather they always cancel each other out. Because of this, the passages and channels that occur are completely continuous through the entire form, creating a large complex maze-like network. If I try to simplify this, then the essence of reaction diffusion is lost. I would also like the aesthetic of reaction diffusion to transfer into the architecture.

Thirdly, up until now, I’ve always been looking for ways to dissociate the box that the reaction occurs in from the geometry it produces, as this bounding box tends to regularise the output to an extent. However, perhaps the box can be used in another way. Instead, we could took two opposite facing walls from the simulation and used that as a means to ground the form. The benefit of this is that it produces a connection between the form and the ground, and while it creates quite an imposing form, it works better than simply placing the form on the site. This could lead into creating a series of networks of boxes with the reaction diffusion forming canopies and spaces between the planes.

Alternatively, I did discover some moments of architectural possibility in the original extruded reaction diffusion models I’d done. By changing where the chemicals seed from and the rate of diffusion, it becomes possible to capture canopies and moments where spaces open up. Although this was an early discovery, this was shifted to the back of my mind while I tried to push the other possibilites such as the 3 dimensional form, but this is where I have been coming back to in recent times.