Thursday, June 25, 2009

What is the Microcosm Studio?

Contemporary culture embraces complexity in countless forms: networked mobile computing, news on-demand, global air travel, mobcasting, robotic-assisted surgery, computer-controlled fabrication, global positioning systems and Facebook. Each of us is part of an increasingly integrated global system that offers higher and higher degrees of local, individual influence. This is an unprecedented kind of order, which defies traditional categorization. The world is both orderly and unpredictable. Its parts are both integrated and independent. The world can no longer be convincingly described as centrally-planned or as a chaotic mess. Instead, it is a complex dynamic system.

This view is transforming diverse fields of inquiry from robotics to economics and from software development to architecture. Whereas architects have predominately sought simplicity and regularity in design, a new movement explores architecture as complex and diverse. The Microcosm studio investigates and extends this work, using emerging technologies and design methods to understand and channel complexity, rather than deny it.

Students undertake a series of short-duration research projects culminating in the design of a complex building. Based on empirical experiments and a review of writings in complexity theory, students identify the properties of complex systems, including non-cyclical order, emergence, redundancy, ubiquitous difference, and rule-based behavior. In early experiments, students test common materials such as concrete, glass and aluminum. By subjecting them to a tooling or chemical process, unexpected behaviors emerge. These behaviors are documented and tested further to reveal architectural potential. In another set of experiments, students analyze biological organisms and identify parametric rule-sets used to reproduce the organisms’ geometry. The geometry is then tested for its structural potential. In a final set of experiments, students integrate the results of material and geometric research to design a mass-customized, parametrically-controlled, architectural enclosure system.