Monday, March 1, 2010

Pure Bottom-up Design

Is there an example of a completed building that employed a pure bottom-up design process? Was it successful in your opinion?

Remember that although it is possible to focus selectively on the bottom-up aspect of design or the top-down aspect for the sake of study, and it is possible to construct classroom exercises that emphasize one over the other (as in Project 1), it is never possible to design purely bottom-up or top-down. Doing so would be disastrous. However, designers have historically neglected one or the other aspect, muting its influence. Disaster follows to the exact extent they neglect one or the other. For example, consider the typical Post-Modern, top-down biased process, in which designers consider only form in early stages of a project, making decisions with little, if any, feedback related to materials, constructability, budget, etc. This leads to: value engineering to realign a design with its budget and change orders in the field to realign a design with constructability. Value engineering and change orders are corrective measures that involve needless expense and erosion of design quality. They are the price paid by any designer who neglects bottom-up, and they became the norm during the decades of Post-Modernism. (Note that these are only some of the consequences of neglecting bottom-up.)

So what happens if you neglect top-down, implementing an intensely bottom-up process? You get incoherent, purposeless wholes. Few projects using such a method have been implemented. I can think of two examples off hand, one proposed and one constructed. The proposed one is Aranda/Lasch’s Grotto project in Pamphlet Architecture 27: Tooling. The built one is Diller Scofidio’s Blur Building. In each case the configuration of the parts into a whole is predominantly unintentional, the result of a material or geometric process acting on its own, with minimal evaluation and choice on the part of the designers. (Note: in the Blur Building, I consider the water mist to be the component parts of the building.)

The question of contemporary design in this regard is not merely how to rediscover bottom-up. Such rediscovery is only a first step. The real question is how to achieve an integration of bottom-up and top-down.


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  2. Here is a video from TED talking about the bottom up creation of materials with the intention of architectural use. It also talks about the benefits of tying architecture to biological systems and the environment.


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