Generative Inspiration

The architecture design studio I coordinate starts the semester off with a generative drawing exercise. The first design brief requires students to produce random lines using bamboo skewers or other stick like materials. The forced process aims to promote quick drawings that ignore composition decisions and allows students to make visual judgements in finding and documenting patterns. These patterns serve as inspiration for form making with no reference to interior habitation requirements or external influences, these come later. The only connection to architecture is that these patterns must result in a poche habitable wall.

Innocent By Design - Pinterest - Concept Sketch

The act of releasing and then drawing skewers introduces randomness into the design process. Unlike art or music disciplines, architects are often conflicted when it comes to the randomness as it removes design agency. while this is true, and architecture based on randomness offers little meaning, it does  stimulate creativity, break conventional thinking and can suggest unconsidered outcomes.

Although the random line process ends in a drawing, it takes students a long time to release and then trace lines into a starting composition. When teaching this beginning project, I am always interested in how the students follow a set of rules, they act procedurally to get to a final drawing. The students don’t realise, but they are making in the way a computer program operates. As students plot and join points into lines they follow a repeatable function that a computer would easily and rapidly complete.

Hand drawn random lines - Morpholio Trace

With this in mind I decided to abstract the process into a repeatable recipe for the computer, an algorithm capable of producing different digitally generated patterns. The aim became to explore customised softwares that produce spatial inspiration.

As Benedict Gross et al argue in Generative Design, producing customised software changes a designer’s analogue performance to the act of “orchestrating the decision making process of the computer” (Gross et al, 2, p4). Rather than producing one drawing, if the designer abstracts a process into rules and run these with different inputs, it will result in multiple images. Abstracting and decomposing problems into smaller chunks through computer language engages the computer’s talent for repetition, randomness and logic and produces outcomes that any analogue process would require obsessive dedication to complete.

An initial test was to see how software could produce random lines across a canvas similar to the bamboo design exercise. Although the outcome was similar, a number of opportunities arose. One was that the sketch could become interactive, allowing a visitor to this site to adjust variables and for their own inspiration. Another was that the sketch could then output an open file format, such as an svg on png, suitable for future design work. The final idea was that the tool could take on the next stage of the design tutorial process, where students generate figure ground poche diagrams from the generated line patterns.

The next stage is to explore adjustment interaction through a control panel, using a p5.js plugin and an integrated button to export an svg file for inkscape.