“Grotto” / PS1 proposal / 2004
Benjamin Aranda & Chris Lasch
“Imagine a few drops of water about to freeze. The endless variety of crystal shapes that emerge in that moment of crystallization became an obsession for one self-educated farmer from Vermont, Wilson Bentley, who spent a lifetime photographing snowflakes. For the forty-five years leading up to his death in 1931, through a painstaking process that involved brutal weather and fussy equipment, Bentley proved that no two snowflakes are alike by documenting 5,381 individual crystals falling behind his farmhouse. For him, the beautiful six-sided symmetry of every crystal was evidence of both the character of the cloud it came from, its altitude, electromagnetism, and temperature, as well as the rules inherent to the water molecule. Since science had not unraveled a working model of the atom yet, it was this last detail—the water molecule itself with its attractions and repulsions—that led Bentley to his exasperation in an article for Technical World in 1910: “What magic is there in the rule of six that compels the snowflake to conform so rigidly to its laws?” Beneath Bentley’s exasperation is a yearning for the algorithmic; the rule of six is evidenced not only in the fact that all snowflakes are six-sided but right down to the molecules and the way they bond with each other, ultimately describing a molecular relationship between two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. The rule of six unlocks his collection. It is a binding rule of transformation, an algorithm that connects the movement from “six” to “no two are alike.” If architecture is an extended process of formation, then before ideas coalesce into a definitive form there must exist some undifferentiated state free of any organization. The moment any sort of development is imposed onto this formless matter it begins to enter the realm of substance, organization, and material.
Tooling is about what rules exist within this hypothetical “pre-material” state that influence its movement into the realm of the material. Like Bentley’s snowflakes, the source of wonder behind one crystal is not the storm it came from but rather the elusive internal logic that remains resolute and unmoving through all crystals.
Tooling is broken down into seven algorithmic techniques: spiraling, packing, weaving, blending, cracking, flocking, and tiling. While each of these algorithms can be used to describe and simulate certain natural phenomena in the world— such as the way a spiraling rule can simulate a hurricane—this book is invested in turning these rules into logics for construction. The term algorithm simply means a series of steps. Today, as modeling, representation, and fabrication technologies shift from manual to automated processes, this issue of algorithm is pressing precisely because it confronts the design of procedures themselves.
To illustrate this, all algorithmic techniques in Tooling are presented alongside 1) a recipe, 2) shapes made by that recipe, 3) a project that uses that recipe within an architectural context, and finally, 4) programmatic computer code (www.arandalasch.com/tooling) making these recipes available to the widest possible audience.
The recipe is vital to understand the basic steps in each algorithm. The maxim, “a problem well put is a problem half-solved,” is no less true in the formulation of architectural techniques. In fact, only when these steps are clearly stated can they really become an algorithm, a powerful packaging of logic that allows this procedural thinking to migrate inside and through various syntaxes, including software. As evidence of this transmissible character, the tailor-made computer code for each of the recipes and sketches can be utilized within the major 3D modeling software platforms being used by architects today. The intent in sharing these algorithms is to encourage diversity, allowing others to import, model, and evolve more critical and insightful tools. Algorithms also offer a non-technological implication in architecture. They break down the elusive and sometimes problematic phenomena of shape. Shapes are never unwilled figures. Deep within them is a struggle between the predilections of the architect and the inherent properties of the geometries encountered. The algorithm mediates these two, acting as a kind of solvent to liquefy them and create the potential for crystallization. Tooling traces the movement between this state of potential and manifest architecture. This movement, or movements, occurs in a dynamic space of interchange where the algorithms and the evolving diversity of figures that crystallize from them are in constant communication and formation with external pressures. The objective of Tooling is to both articulate this resonant field and show that one of the biggest challenges of algorithmic architecture lies in establishing very coherent, pre-material rules that can be used with mathematics and geometry to control this field. Once this field is defined as a flexible and open space, the job of designing begins.”