Reclaiming Nature in Computational Architectural Design: From Biology to Phenomenology


CALL: 2016

DOMAIN: ID - Humanities and Social Sciences

FIRST NAME: Nathalie

LAST NAME: Kerschen




KEYWORDS: architectureimagecomputationtechnologysimulacrumcode

START: 2016-09-02

END: 2019-09-01


Submitted Abstract

Since the 1990s, architects have presented various computationally-driven achievements as ‘turns,’ ‘paradigm shifts,’ or ‘revolutions’ within their discipline.
While some designers have created complex geometries and innovative forms, others have advanced bio-inspired approaches to computational
architecture. They have produced ‘new materials’ by combining computational form- finding techniques, robotic fabrication, and additive manufacturing processes based on a renewed interest in Nature. But what is ‘Nature’? This dissertation juxtaposes the concept of nature as posited by the postwar sciences with Nature as given in “lived” perception. Its goal is to show the extent to which bio-inspired computational designers’ methods and discourses still operate on the Cartesian premise that Nature is merely a material “aggregate.” This is a view which fails to qualitatively differentiate between artificial machines (or systems) and living beings, and therefore remains problematic.
Building upon the hermeneutical-phenomenological tradition of critical interpretation in architecture, this dissertation examines these contemporary architects’ claims about computational design novelty in relation to Nature. A philosophical analysis of the idea of Nature undergirding bio-inspired approaches to computational architecture provides a background against which to critically challenge the implicit values and beliefs embedded in these architects’ tools, techniques, and discourses, along with a framework to question their professed novelty. It further provides an opening to question our contemporary relationship to Nature in the context of the ongoing climate crisis, shifting architectural design discussions from an epistemological understanding of Nature to a perception of Nature as “lived.” This view draws from Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Nature course notes (lectures) and from Ted Toadvine’s eco-phenomenology.

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