015_We Robots

 We Robots *)

First of all  I wish to reposition the human condition as we usually feel it and perceive it. I do feel the need to mentally reposition ourselves in the evolution of human society so far. My opening statement is that from the moment we started using tools as the extension of our bodies, we entered a robotic condition. From the moment we started to use a hammer to nail hard material into somewhat softer material we not only extended ourselves with tools, but we also started to interlace ourselves to systemic relationships between things. Using tools is where the Internet of Things and People really started. Let me give a few examples to illustrate this opening statement. The point that I wish to make is that we can no longer discuss human society without describing the intrinsic relationships between people and things / systems, we must take into account all things, tools, systems and environments. I abandon the anthropocentric view and look at things from levels up into the macro-world, and simultaneously from levels down into the microscopic universe.

A Space Odyssey 2001 | Stanley Kubrick 1967
A Space Odyssey 2001 | Stanley Kubrick 1968

Coevolution of things and people

Let us imagine a cabinetmaker in the workshop, which represents already a huge step in the evolution of the society where we take part in. I have to put emphasis on “taking part in” since already in this situation we can no longer maintain the position that humans have full control of this environment, that the cabinetmaker has full control over the tools that are used and the space [s]he is working in. The cabinetmaker plays a role in the systemic relationships between things and the self. There would be no nail if there would not be something like a hammer, there would be no hammer if not a person to hold the hammer. Things like hammer and people live in a symbiotic relationship, and in the context of today I would even say that things and people live in a systemic and indeed robotic relationship.  The person is integral part of the system, but is not controlling the system, the cabinetmaker co­evolves with the tools, the materials that are prepared for further operations, and the space one is working in. In this workshop condition the person is needed to fire the action, to pick up the hammer, to force down the  nail  into  the  wood.  Seen from the perspective of the workshop as  a complex environment the person is used to activate the tools and to put together the product. This we can visualize by speeding up time in a time lapse movie, and we actually see the cabinet come into being without even the trace of the cabinetmaker, he will appear as a ghostly appearance as to feed the workshop, he basically functions as the energy and the information that is used to compose the piece of furniture in that specific environment. The workshop is a metabolic cell that generates cabinets using the workforce of people as carriers of energy and information. Information is processed via the bodies and brains of the cabinetmakers to the tools and materials. The human body functions as an information hub in a much  larger system of propagating information. Information feeds upon the human body to be processed, demonstrating the verifiable non­-anthropocentric view on society.  The higher purpose of the existence of human beings is not their own lives, neither the further development of their own species, I believe people exist only to function as a carrier to process information and to propagate processed information. In a similar fashion the car body is a carrier to distribute information, which in its turn is carried by people. The purpose of the Internet is not to be convenient to people, but to distribute information on a global scale. Information thus has become highly successful in evolutionary terms, and is soon expected to massively radiate out of our solar system and into nanoscales as to propagate further, perhaps until galaxies and quarks will find out that they are part of the same logic. In that larger system of things and people the mundane workshop is a cell of a larger body which is called the city, which in its turn is a hub in society at large.

Non-human robots

How robotic is that? How robotic is such deep mutual relationship between people and things? We do not need a robotic arm or a robotic vacuum cleaner to mark the emergence of robotic environments. Robotic environments started to form right away after the dawn of systemic intelligence, extending versatile human bodies with mobile tools and instruments. The fact that these tools are not fixed to the human body does not make them less of a direct extension. It is exactly this mobility that is the fascinating aspect of “recent” [millions of years] evolution. Things and systems are deeply linked to bodies without a physical connection. It is exactly for that reason that I am not impressed by performances  with explicit robotic extensions that are fixed to his own body. To me that represents a pitiful misunderstanding of what evolution of information is actually doing with us, and what humans are doing with evolution. Similarly I am not impressed or even annoyed by constructing robots with the intention to copy human behavior, as to walk, grip, sniff and snooze.

Vectorial bodies

Now imagine the driver car highway system. We can look at this system from different perspectives, from the perspective of the highway, the car and the driver. Let us first look at it from the viewpoint of the highway. It is fair to say that the highway processes the cars, that the highway actively digests a variety of cars, trucks, vans, motorbikes, basically any vectorial body that is fit to join the industrious traffic swarm scanning the global highway network. This process of digesting cars never stops, there is not a single moment that the highways and other roads stop processing. Sometimes they may process more cars, and then fluctuating to less car movements, but the highway is always in action. Even when the road is blocked for maintenance it must be seen as a form of action. And sometimes the hungry highway system may be temporarily blocked by traffic jams, yet always offers a bypass for their mobile prey . New highways are being constructed all the time, some old ones are fading away, new and more intense networks are made as to facilitate the evolution of information. Indeed, highways are information processing machines, delivering data carriers from A to B and back again. Such network of highways is very much alive, it never stops pumping cars through its veins, and is bound to increase its capacity in the coming decades, eventually to make place for a new intelligent transport system exchanging packages of information in a more efficient way. What drives the system? Who is the driver, who is the driven? Are we humans really the drivers of this system? Or are we ­ as is the position I will take in this paper ­ basically a form of data for the transport system, packages of information that are carried by our bodies, which in their turn are hosted by the cars, which in turn are processed by the highways.  Driving a car one may have the illusion that one is in charge, that one is free to choose where to go. But in  fact the journey is very much predetermined, governed by precise rules of conduct. Even more so when automated vehicles will become the norm. Free will is relative, which both applies to the human driver, to the car rolling on the highway, as to the highway processing  the cars. I consider the road system to be a real time behaving input – processing – output machine. Each perspective is just as valid as any other point of view. The car has no meaning without the driver, the highway would not exist without the existence of cars, the human body would not be considered a driver without the idea of a car. Drivers, cars and highways form one complex interwoven system, fully co­evolved in their doings . Drivers, cars and highways, all of these can be considered robotic as they execute certain mutually related tasks following a strict yet slowly evolving set of rules. Robots that work. We robots .

The body

Architecture is considered in this context as the interface between the flow of people and the building components, the buildings themselves and the built environments at large, including infrastructure like highways, airports, harbors. Humans are embodied in their bodies , but what about buildings and infrastructure? Are they contained as bodies too? The logical consequence of the operational metabolism of buildings is that buildings must indeed be considered to possess a body. Buildings feed on material they are absorbing, basically everything that enters the semipermeable membranes of the house, as there are people, water, gas, electricity, data, air. Buildings process that information and convert it to something new or different.  People rearrange things in the house, wear them out, throw them away, bring in new products. Water is injected in the house, rubs hands, bodies, forks, knives, waters the plants and leaves the house in a slightly contaminated condition. Gas feeds the oven and the gas boiler, is burnt and thrown out of the chimney. Electricity feeds the lights, TV set and other devices. Data feed your computer. Air is let in as to dilute the  contaminated air. All these processes are in essence based on information exchange between the smallest nanoparticles. People leaving the house are uploaded with new information as distributed by television, radio or the internet, and they disseminate this information to other people, via notes, messages, spoken word, gestures. Information has been processed by the building, with people as the enzymes facilitating that process. Without people operating the body of the house that house would be a dead body. But viewing the bi­directional process from the other end is more telling. Homes are a necessary attribute of society. Homes have their own metabolism, arrays of homes congregate into buildings, along streets, which again have a metabolism of their own. Not functioning apart from people but intrinsically interwoven with the operations people execute on the buildings. So we are talking about a co­existence of homes and family, of buildings and communities, of city and society. We as people have become deeply linked to the built environment, in such a way that the one can not be seen separate from the other, they have built up a bi-directional relationship, ever evolving as to feed the propagation of information.

Information processing vehicles

In a similar way of looking at the co­existence of people and things the infrastructure of highways and secondary roads are processing vehicles in a non­stop process. Vehicles are  like packages of information, carrying and delivering information to remote destinations, information in the form of people, who in turn are carriers and processors of information, or in the form of books, goods, stories and designs. The infrastructure is a huge extensive globally distributed information processing machine, interacting with other such machines operating at different scales, like the aviation network, the containership network, the bicycle network, the invisible communication networks, radio and television networks. The highway network is a  machine that executes complex series of actions, and is programmed by its design  to host the  swarm of vehicles in a complex  manner. Complexity is based on simple rules, the outcome of the process looks complex when viewed from outside the system. All such complex networks must be considered to constitute a body , whether physically contained in a body or ephemeral contained in software and rules of conduct.

Robotic bodies

Now that buildings infrastructures and their programs have been identified as bodies , the question that must be raised here is whether these building bodies and those infrastructural bodies are robotic by nature  . Nature as we know it is considered here as a computation, based on information exchange between the acting players, whether big or small. How do these building bodies actually operate? Can they be stopped at all? Is there an on / off button? Are they being operated or do they operate? Can they die? Are they born? How are they produced?  Most likely answer: by the people – workshop / factory complex adaptive system. How did they come into existence at all? The most essential definition of a robot is that they are constructed bodies that “work”. Here we are, houses work, buildings do work, cities work, infrastructure works. Robots do not need to resemble people to bear the name robot. I will adopt here the broader definition of what a robot means to us and to our society. The narrow definition is according to the Oxford Dictionary : “A machine capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically, especially one programmable by a computer”. Since I consider the global highway network a “machine” that feeds on vehicles, which in their turn are programmed by people and gas, and since as seen from a non-­anthropocentric viewpoint they can not be stopped to do so, hence automatically carrying out their actions, and while they are programmed to execute their tasks of facilitating the flow of vehicles, the highway network must be considered a robotic body. We live with them, live in them, and can not live without them. Our lives and the lives of the robotic environments are deeply interlaced and  form a co-­creative steadily evolving being .

A Day in the Life

This paragraph intends to elaborate upon the intrinsic relationship between people and machines that surround them and are operated by them. Whether we  like it or not, you are bound to be intimately linked to a machine or system of some sort for most of the day. You are caught in machines, which in turn are caught in systems, and it feels so natural that you don’t feel that you are taken hostage. Let’s experience a day in the life, and simply register how and how long you are communicating with some version of a machine. Or, in other words, to what extent you are an analogue robot dancing with a mechanical slash digital robot. The tour of a normal day featuring extensive robotic interplay. A typical day starts with the alarm clock. Just this seemingly innocent fact links a person to a global system of time construction, time manufacturing, time processing, time management. Setting and obeying the alarm clock means accepting the intrinsic interlacing with a global system, meaning accepting one’s position as a player in the same game, on level playing field with the robotic alarm clock. Setting the alarm clock, organizing your agenda, living up to its input, linking you to other people’s time management, imprisons you voluntarily for hours in a day to globally arranged robotic time fabrication systems, both in terms of hardware and software. Then at the dawn of the day I switch on my espresso machine. The entire process of operating the machines to fabricate the cappuccino and to consume it chains me voluntarily for at least 15 minutes, to be repeated several times a day. Then I may take a shower, brush my teeth using the electric machine, and again I am linked to a very complex system of infrastructural water treatment installations, to a range of sanitary products, indirectly to some factories worldwide to produce them, to resellers that sell them to me, to advisors and dentists that advise me on my demand, again this links me in a robotic fashion to such sanitary environments. Should I go on? When analyzing a full day one is almost 100% intimately related to machines, to systems, to procedures. It is only the variety of crosslinking and entanglements with machines, systems and procedures ­ in short with robotic environments ­ that makes one feel self­-determined. But in the end every citizen is ultimately full time dancing with machines and procedures. Who is the robot? The position I take here is both the analogue biological player and the mechanical and digital machine are bodies that are interacting with each other. Neither of them can live without the other.  There is no life as we know it without being so intimately linked to mechanical and digital bodies, while the machined bodies can not exist and evolve without them being linked to analogue players. Living with products links you to the product industry, watching TV links you to the entertainment industry, using your cellphone links you to the ICT industry, sitting on a sofa links you to the domestic industry, paying your bills links you to the financial industry, driving your car links you to the automotive industry, living in your house links you to the building industry, walking on the pavement links you to the infrastructure industry, filling your gas tank is linking you to the energy industry, playing tennis links you to the leisure industry, there is virtually not a single moment in your life  that you are not linked to people and things. There is a strong mutual independency between people on the one hand and things and systems on the other, which makes me believe that nature  and products must be seen as one integrated ecosystem, where old and new nature are not seen as different ecosystems that are fighting each other. There will be no winners, no losers, only the further propagation ­ and as of now ­  unpredictable transcription of information. Taking it to the extreme, nature as we know it, enhanced with product life, may eventually evolve towards information in  another disguise. We are temporary carriers and processing units of information, just like quarks, atoms and molecules. We are feeding an explosive  increase of information content of the crust o the earth, eventually leading to popping out of the globe into deep interior and exterior space.

The Body Plan

Bodies have a plan, they evolve according to a plan, they live a life­cycle plan, they love it when a plan comes together, and eventually they fade out, are destroyed, or simply disappear. From here on I will focus on building bodies, and leave infrastructural and organizational bodies out of further considerations. How do building bodies come into existence, how are they constructed, how do they operate, and how do they survive or die? In earlier writings [Oosterhuis, Hyperbodies, Towards an Emotive Architecture, Birkhäuser 2003, ISBN 3-7643-6969-8]  I have proposed to give any design proposal legal birthright as from the very first conceptual idea. Meaning that no one owns the design except the design ­ and later the built building ­ itself.  The building design grows up to transform into an explicit, often physical identity, as a player in the fabric of the city, naturally with the right to “speak”. Un-built designs  keep their ephemeral identity, and live their lives in the minds of people, in texts, in images. Hyperbodies grow according to a body plan, which is not a blueprint, but rather a genetic code, instructing simple rules of cell division and cell specification. Hyperbodies are informed bodies, similar to hypertext as an informed evolution from plain text, and hypersurfaces as digitally augmented surfaces of building bodies.  As always symmetry plays an important role in the making of bodies according to their body plans. Although not noticed by architectural critiques, de facto all of my designs whether small or big ­ Waterpavilion, our many housing projects, iWEB, A2 Cockpit, Bálna Budapest, LIWA tower  ­ are symmetrical in their basic lay­out. Only allowing for a local asymmetry when it comes to responding to specific local conditions. Sometimes rotational symmetry is used as in the Waterpavilion, where at one side the feature line of the fin goes up towards the nose, at the other side going up towards the connection with the  alchemist  style  NOX  sector,  indicating  where the openings are, the main side entrance and the emergency exit, both detailed as cut­outs on the sides of the body and skin as to maintain the fluidity of the body. We see similar detailing in car bodies, where the door ­ always embedded as a side entrance as to go with the flow ­ is cut out from the body skin and the body structure. Understanding body plans and their inherent detailing is crucial to understand the nature of robotic environments,.  I will explain why robotic buildings simply need body plans. As  pointed out before, humans and their tools / vehicles have co­evolved, whereas  the  evolution of humans mainly took place by enhanced connectivity to things and other people in their brains,  by evolving language by labelling things and tools, since they already had the mobile body to free themselves from a fixed coordinate on earth. The co­evolution means a mutual dependency of humans and their tools, vehicles, building bodies and societal systems. People spend most of their day connected to clothes, machines, tools, and de facto always connected to buildings and transport vehicles. Reviewing a day in the life, counting how much time you have spent brushing teeth, making coffee, listening to radio, sending email, driving car or bike, using keys to lock and unlock spaces / buildings, checking your cellphone for Facebook or Twitter, cooking food, get dressed, sit on chairs, tables, writing code, working with robots, drinking beer, perform differential calculations, you will feel how deeply one is embedded in the built environment.  You are basically always interacting with some sort of system or machine.  The systemic links between tools, factories, distribution channels, selling points, buyers,  users and communities are so strong that using such a tool means being active part of that system. That global system of humans ­ tools / vehicles / buildings interaction is a continuous operation, it never stops, the systemic components are always in the process of being made and always in the process of being used, therefore that system must be considered to be processing information   , temporarily “on air” until it is replaced by a further evolved system.

Specification of components and spaces

The building components of the building body  are the constituting cells  of their bodies. They have evolved over a long period of time, and are getting smarter over time. Having left the period of structural brickworks far behind ­ although some die­hard old school architects still regret this ­ we are now entering a phase in the building industry where the constituting building components are becoming smart informed components, both in the design process as in the fabrication process and in the process of operation. Building components have started to talk to each other, and some building components will  be equipped with actuators as to act in real time on specific requests from externally and internally changing conditions. Smart in the design process means that the designs are programmed, scripted, generated, bred, co-­created on the basis of open collaborative design systems.  I have developed applications for climbing walls [Climbing Wall, ONL 2012]  and acoustic ceilings [Acoustic Ceiling, ONL 2014].  These applications offer an open platform for designers and users alike to design their own climbing wall and their own acoustic ceiling, as  long as they follow the simple rules as set by the designers of the parametric software. For the climbing wall and the acoustic ceiling the solution space for the  designers is extended to include nonstandard complex geometries, therewith offering a maximum of design freedom for the co­-creators. The nonstandard design   paradigm  is  an  inclusive  approach,  allowing  for  traditional rectangular designs  as well. Each of the constituting components in such open design system is principally unique in its shape, dimensions and properties, such smart design  component is “only that, only there, and only then”. The body as a result of the design process consists of thousands of such unique linked components. For example the A2 Sound Barrier [ONL, 2005]  consists of 40.000 unique steel components and 10.000 unique plates of glass. Together they form the body of the structure that communicates freedom of expression and synthetic integrity at the same time.

Digital design to production

Bringing the discussion back to daily work,  it is necessary to discuss the principles of the digital “design to production” and “design to operation” processes. Digital design to  production means nothing less than a revolution in the building chain of built environments. Architecture will never be the same. Digital design to production is by definition based on code. Designing with code unravels new horizons both in the world of design as in the world of production. Taking advantage of the architecture of the CNC machine ­ these machines read code, not drawings or 3d models ­ an immediate relation between design and machine can be established. Writing code forms the basis for parametric  design  methods  as well, meaning that a systemic design to  production procedure paves the way for an unprecedented nonstandard, extreme customization of the design and production of the individual building components,  the only limitation  being the imagination of the designer and the physical constraints  of the machines. Freedom of expression here does not imply extra costs, exactly the opposite is true in my designs, the design to production methods I have designed and executed have proven to be time efficient and cost-effective. The A2 Car showroom is built for a mere 750 €/m2, while the A2 sound barrier where the Cockpit building is embedded in, has been built for a mere 450 €/m2. All compo0nents different and yet competitive with the standard sound barrier as promoted by the Ministry of Infrastructure. The cost advantages are both in the design process, which literally saves 20% in each phase of the design process, from preliminary design to execution, and in the production process, while no information has to be redrawn and nothing gets lost in translation, that is two times for effective than a traditional linear chain of design, engineering, tendering, contracting and manufacturing process. Today’s CNC machine are capable of dealing with difference much more than is typically used by the designers. The machine really does not care whether it produces series of the same or series of unique components, it all depends on the code it is reading. The ultimate freedom of architectural expression can be disclosed when the designer produces code instead of using traditional (3d  modeling, which is basically an optimization of a traditional linear design process, design techniques that need to be translated into code. Many possibilities are not taken into account or will get lost in translation, when not thinking as a programmer­-designer. Clearly architectural programming must form the core of teaching during in courses and design studios at architectural schools from day one the high school students enter the faculties.  This is what Hyperbody [TU Delft, 2000] has introduced since the establishment of the chair in 2000. Students will need to get acquainted with thinking like a programmer, to write code, and to instruct the machines in the most direct way possible. Designing and producing will naturally become an iterative creative process, where the design is  almost instantly informed by the potential and constraints of the production [and operation] process.

Emotive embodiments

The future of architecture is just this, precisely here and exactly now. The unique building components that together constitute the building body keep their unique identity over time, meaning that that they can be addressed in the design, production and operation process individually as to perform . Each building component is potentially an actuator, either processing data in an otherwise solid cell / component, or actuating the cell / component by changing its shape, dimension and / or performance. Actuating cells of the building body are relatively dumb, processing only a few simple algorithms, yet in sync with their immediate neighbors. The Hyperbody research group at TU Delft and ONL have designed and produced a wealth of interactive prototypes, all of them to considered today as robotic embodiments, realized decades before we referred to them as robotic installations.  Now we consider these interactive installations robotic environments, as to fight the idea that the robots would look like humans and copy human behavior. Recently ONL’s NSA Muscle project was already archived in the CCA, the Center for Contemporary Architecture in Montreal, as part of a show curated by Greg Lynn [Archeology of the Digital, Media and Machines, exhibition in CCA Montreal, 2015].  ONL and Hyperbody have developed CNC driven design to production methods to realize in practice the complex geometry that gives shape to their design concepts. As demonstrated above, I consider existing buildings, also the most primitive adobe houses, as a simple form of a robotic environment, since they are processing materials, people and data without ever stopping to do so. Now when building components are no longer made of mud, brick or steel, and become tiny robotic environments in themselves operating as  in a swarm, I suggest to label them emotive robotic embodiments as to differentiate from the static shells of the environment. These emotive robotic environments are so complex in their behavior that they are experienced by humans as living things, as emotive embodiments.

Society of robots

The word robot typically is used to indicate that something works, something that acts, functions in real time, something that is processing information. Now  when we consider built environments as environments that work while processing data continuously and are composed of components that work while processing data in real time, we can rightfully state that we ourselves live as soft bots in a robotic world. A robotic world that is handmade robotic since millennia, machined robotic since centuries, and additionally programmed robotic in the 21st century.  Whether we like it or not,  we live in a society of robots and robotic systems and people are their co­evolving teammates, living as embodied people in the Internet of Embodied Things.

*) Vision paper by Kas Oosterhuis originally written for the CCC Conference Emotive Embodiments at the TU Delft in CCC Conference in 2015.

014_Arch-News interview

Interview by Marwa Al Sabouni of the Arch-News portal from Homs, Syria. Marwa Al Sabouni is the author of “Battle for Home”.

Marwa Al Sabouni: You identify yourself as “Expert formerly known as the architect”, you also give lectures to students to introduce them to the term “information architect” how have the mission of the architect changed in our modern times; and is technology is the only cause for this shift in thought and related terminology regarding the profession of architecture?

Expert formerly known as the architect

Kas Oosterhuis: After having written my book Towards A New Kind Of Building [NAi Publishers, 2011], I asked myself publicly what exactly is the expertise of today’s architect? The easy answer is of course that there are many types of architects, but the question I wish to discuss here is if we should consider ourselves “generalists” or that we perhaps are professionals in a more specific field of expertise? The problem is that at my faculty at the TU Delft the dominant concept is indeed that of the generalist: hovering over all disciplines, the puppeteer who pulls the strings, the one who makes the end-decisions, the one who is top-down dictating the rules of the game. In our educational system the students are given the illusion that they will be the ones that decide. But I know from practice that the reality is different, there are many puppeteers who make important decisions on various fields of expertise, in a most complex way woven together as to develop the one-off product. It is my conviction that we all should respect each others expertise, including that of the climate designer, the structural designer, the quantity surveyor, the user, the client, the interaction designer, the material designer, I consider them all to be experts in their field. I want to work with them in a level playing field, that is why we are developing open collaborative design techniques as to work 1:1 with any other expert in any stage of the design to production and the design to operation process. Now we come to the question I have avoided as of yet: what then is my expertise and that of my team? The not so easy answer is: basically we are experts in the [digital, parametric] programming of the spatial interaction between the constituent components of the construct, be it a chair, an installation, a pavilion, a building, an urban scheme, or a work of art. As an important sub-expertise of ourselves at ONL and at Hyperbody TU Delft we are experts in the real time behavior of the constituent components, dealing with interactive architecture.

Academia and practice

MAS: You are a well-known professor and professional expert in the field of architecture; teaching at the Delft University but also practice in both fields (academic and professional) in the Gulf region; where those two fields meet in your opinion?

KO: At the university I am a professor from practice, I bring in the experience, knowledge and skills from practice into the university. In practice I am often considered as a scientist, someone who wants to know exactly how things work, someone who is not satisfied with vague ideas, metaphors and illusions, but wants to see the proof of the concept. I start with coining a hypothesis, and then test it on all levels, from design to engineering to production to the actual usage of the building. If someone challenges the hypothesis with good arguments, I listen and adjust the design concept accordingly. I am reaching out for expert opinions from other experts. Likewise I develop a real opinion on things, step by step constructing my own scheme of things, my personal universe, which is partly emotional and partly rational. In this respect it helps a lot that my partner in life and business Ilona Lénárd is a visual artist, and looks at things from a different perspective. Since 1989 we have decided to join forces and dedicate our studio to the fusion of art and architecture on a digital platform. So it is not only a match between the academic and the practice, but very much the cross-disciplinary approach that characterizes our methods of working. Cross-disciplinary design requires empathy with the other, allowing the other to bring in their expertise and their emotions, and it requires to find ways and procedures to make the match without ending up with a half-baked compromise. This is the real challenge, how to set the rules of the collaborative design game such that the unfolding of the process generates surprising new insights.

New kind of beauty

MAS: The identification of beauty has been an area of philosophical investigation for a long time; today you are promoting a “new kind of beauty” how do you define beauty today? Namely, what are main characteristics and values of a beautiful object of the 21st century that are different from an older one?

KO: In my TEDx lecture in Delft [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tvsQLeSK-U] I challenged the audience to understand that we are changing your view on what’s beautiful. We also post that statement on our ONL website. The leading theme of my talk was the paradigm shift towards mass-customization as the logical further development of mass production. I am not criticizing mass production as such, since it brought our society where we find ourselves right now, but I challenge the production methods as to produce series of unique products, series of unique building components, potentially leading to a until now unseen natural magnificence of complexity. Complex but not complicated, since complexity is based on a well balanced set of simple rules. And mind you, such complexity based on mass-customized CNC design to production methods is no more expensive then regular mass produced buildings. The CNC machines, provided that they are given the proper data, do not care if they produce series of the same or series of unique elements, for the machine that is similar and requires therefore no more production time. Consistent application of mass customization thinking and production, and then I mean not only roofs but the building as a whole, lead to a thoroughly different aesthetics, where repetition of any kind will no longer be considered as beautiful or even functional, but rather as a remnant of past eras. the century which lies ahead of us will be dedicated to the beauty of continuous variation. The New Kind of Beauty is a natural beauty, radiating its inner beauty without having to compensate with extensive make-up.

Continuous variation

MAS: Many of the modern works of architecture toady adopt what has become known as “Parametricisim”; do you think of parametrics as a distinctive architectural style or as a method of production? And how so?

KO: In fact the realized works based on parametric design methods are very scarce indeed. And when parametric design methods are used, they usually are confined to parts of a building, not to the whole, not in any of ZHA’s buildings, only taken to the full extent in some experimental pavilion designs, but even then mostly confined to a roofscape only. I must confess that I do not appreciate the term parametricism at all. First of all since parametric design exists since the early eighties of last century, second because I am against all -isms, I am looking for the real thing, not for derivatives. Maybe this is my Dutch background that I am looking for a deeper meaning, like what the painter Piet Mondrian was striving for in his quest for the universal. And third because I think the term parametricism narrows down the subject too much to a technique, an external appearance. The New Beauty encompasses much more than that, the idea of continuous variation by building relations between all constituent components must settle between the ears of the designer in all stages of the design until completion, in all conceptual assumptions and all procedural programming for an open design environment.

Scientific American

MAS: As an architect where do draw your inspiration from?

KO: My favorite reading is the magazine Scientific American, I draw much more inspiration from science an art exhibitions than from architectural magazines. the inspiration I draw from architecture is by going there and see the buildings themselves, not so much from looking at images. The only way to fully understand a building is to go and see it in real life, to feel the spatial lay-out, to touch the materials, and often to experience how much traditional effort it took as to produce the photogenic image. This is particularly true for interiors of ZHA and Gehry, whose designs create illusions of continuity, but which can only be achieved by many layers of traditional plasterwork, which is for me fully contradictory to the essence of design to production. Well designed buildings should be assembled using dry fixing methods, which is a big issue in the recyclability of the building. The modern car industry already guarantees all its components to be fully recyclable. You might have expected me to draw my inspiration from nature, but that is not really the case. On the other hand I wish to design our buildings such that it feels natural, not by copying external characteristics, but by a deeper understanding of how atoms group together to molecules, how molecules act together as to form proteins, how proteins flock together as to form muscles and bones. I am looking at quantum theory just as well as to natural physics on the universal scale. I want to understand how the smaller components work together to form larger consistent wholes, and how they read external environmental information. I see buildings as complex adaptive systems, as information processing vehicles, rather than as imitations of end-products of an organic nature.

Local data sets

MAS: It is noticeable in our modern world the major retreats of local identities do you think it is important to consider local identity in the work of architecture; More importantly is it achievable through this new design paradigm?

KO: My answer to your question is a clear yes. Relational design methods must be open to local pieces of information, local data sets, in other words to the very nature of local identities. I have always worked like that, trying to understand the spirit of the place rather than copying the obvious external appearances. We were very pleased with the name our client Abdullah Al Nasser Mansoori gave to our office tower in the Capital Centre district in Abu Dhabi. He named the tower after the LIWA desert, obviously because he was born and raised in the LIWA desert, but surely also because he recognized the gentle curves of the ridges of the dunes as caused by the prevailing winds, and the color scheme, which we chose to avoid the building to look dirty after a sand storm. So there was reference to basic climatic conditions and available technology, but not a superficial resemblance. We did not look at the impressive reddish dunes at the Empty Quarter and thought that we should make the building look like that. Not at all, that has been the lucky marriage of an intuitive empathy and rational reasoning in combination with available mass-customization technology.


MAS: Is the use of term “scripting” instead of “drawing” only a matter of keeping up with modernization of the terminologies of technology; or does it hold an ontological underlying meaning to it? Can you explain more to us?

KO: My team at ONL produces only drawings as derived from a 3d model to get the approval of the authorities, since they need to literally stamp the drawings for approval. For all other purposes, the design development itself, the design to production procedures, for the interaction with other experts we do not produce drawings at all. We are very careful to avoid producing 2D drawings and fancy renderings since they are in essence a dead-end street, a derivate from the real information. You can not make comments on a drawings and then feed it back to the 3d model, it is double work and too much gets lost in translation. To make it clear for you how we work, we are not clicking together 3d models either, we program them, on a variety of software platforms like Visual Basic, Autolisp routines, Rhinoscript, Maxscript, Processing, Grasshopper, Pro-Engineer. At Hyperbody we programmed our interactive installations in Nemo / Virtools game development program, and using Max MSP to control the sensor data. Basically using those more recently developed softwares platforms is writing code via a graphic user interface. Some of our nerds take it as a challenge to write code directly, in Python or Unity. So you see how deeply rooted working on a digital platform is for us, and bear in mind that it a pure requisite for being to realize buildings like the LIWA tower for a normal budget of a commercial building.

I am not complaining

MAS: You have built major buildings in the UAE such as the Capital Centre in Abu Dhabi and Dubai Sports City in Dubai 2007, beside the aspects of passive design based on the informed data of climate and location; how are these buildings different or distinctive from other projects of yours around the world?

KO: Now your referring to local climatic and/or cultural conditions again. The interesting thing is that we would never have the chance to propose such distinctive designs as LIWA tower or Sport City tower [not realized] in The Netherlands, since there we suffer from a combination of a typical Dutch attitude of acting “normal”, with an absolute dominance of OMA’s ironic modernistic aesthetics. As you know OMA / Rem is quite influential in my country, having produced so many clones, almost half of the younger leading architects in The Netherlands have worked for a while in OMA’s office, and have been deeply influenced by their journalistic, modernistic, retroactive, assumed witty and ironic attitude. As you know, Rem criticizes the iconic repeatedly, and frankly that is not good for us. As a sort of collateral damage, our logic of mass-customization is not widely appreciated by Dutch architectural critics, who are voluntarily subordinated to their dominant turbo language, using superlatives for almost anything. It is exemplary that our A2 Cockpit building – although appreciated by almost anyone who passes by or buys a car there – has not received any direct follow-up in The Netherlands in terms of new commissions. I am not complaining, we do what we do and we do it without any resentment, but this observation would serve well as an answer to your question.

Design the design process

MAS: For many centuries architects had gave their own interpretations of nature and universe including the human body and the human input into the world around him, today’s architectural orientation is more about the way than the form; do you agree on that, and if so, why do you think this focus on the way of form have become more important than the form itself?

KO: I see the design process as to get to the finished product as a collaborative effort on a level playing field by a swarm of experts, exchanging lean data sets in real time as to achieve the higher goal of improving our built environment. This does not mean that each individual expert may not have explicit opinions in their own field of expertise, in fact I require them to have such strong opinions. I request from a structural designer or a climatic designer that [s]he has an opinion on the structure, that [s]he know more than I do. Personally I strive for a balance between a bottom-up process and top-down opinions. I think this is the very nature of any natural body as well. Each organism receives top-down information from its environment, processes that information on the basis of its own genetic rules, and sends out edited information back to its environment. For us it works in a similar way for design processes. Yes, we design the design process much more than in earlier days, we jump into the process, we navigate the process like a gardener as was stated by the musician Brian Eno, but at the same time we develop strong conceptual ideas, which function as external information fed top-down into the design process, to test it against all odds. In conclusion I do not favor the process over the formal outcome, I am not interested in a process that produces indifferent outcomes, which is by the way the very reason we hate the term “blobs” as coined by Greg Lynn when referring to complexity in architecture. Blobs are indifferent in their shape, while my designs are highly stylized [think of car body styling], relational yet explicit, flexible yet distinctive, precise and intentional, yet the outcome of a collaborative open design process.

Information Architect

MAS: What is your advice for young architects in the region?

KO: Educate yourself, learn programming skills, train your intuition, join discussion forums, and go for it. I think the secret for success for younger architects is to position yourself as a team player, having explicit skills, preferably programming skills yourself, and be open for collaboration with other experts of other fields of expertise on a digital platform. Position yourself as an information architect, controlling the data sets of the geometry of the project as to establish a direct connection between the design and the CNC production. Think design strategies that rely largely on CNC production techniques and on dry assembly techniques, as to secure a lean and green sustainable design and production process, and as to secure the sustainability of the life-cycle of the building, thus avoiding double work and waste in any phase of the project. Optimize for complexity and multiplicity, not for mass production.

Strong internal logic

MAS: Your recent project LIWA Tower in Abu Dhabi has quickly become a landmark in the area, was this a main concern of yours in the design process and how could it achieve this from your point of view?

KO: For some reason many of our designs have achieved the status of a landmark, without the explicit intention to become one, they stand out on the basis of their strong internal logic. I think it is in the nature of our rare approach of the fusion of art, architecture and technology on a digital platform that inevitably produces landmark structures. Sometimes people experience our work work as hermetic because it represents a new paradigm and hence constructs a parallel universe in itself, rather than using a common language such as modernism, deconstructivism, rationalism, historicism, high-tech, regionalism, post-modernism, or parametricism. Another often heard comment is that our designs need a lot of space around them, which bias we have effectively challenged with the design and the realization of the Bálna mixed use centre in the historic city centre of Budapest. The Bálna shows that we can weave the new nonstandard paradigm in an existing city fabric without destroying the charm of the old, while adding a strong new element to it.

Bridge the gap

MAS: We at Arabic Gate for Architectural News have launched recently an architectural initiative called “Rebuilding Destroyed Cities” in response to the unfortunate destruction that many of the world’s cities are witnessing whether by nature or man-made; and as you may know many of the cities in the middle east have met sad cases of mass destruction lately; in your opinion how should architects look at those cities; as a tabula rasa that should be built from ground zero or should they built on certain foundation, and if the latter is true; what should the main strategy for rebuilding be about?

KO: I am not really authorized to give a well funded advise for such urgent and very unfortunate situations of mass-destruction. My hunch would be, but I would not be able to verify after having visited those ruined areas, that I would opt for a balanced mix between literally rebuilding the once existing and adding fresh new structures. Complete rebuilding the old may leads to boring cities that feel more dead than alive, while the tabula rasa is not an option for many societal reasons. One will need to bridge the gap between the city one remembers and the unknown future. I believe the most importance issue that one has to deal with is the structure of ownership. Who owns the plot of land, is there enough diversity of ownership to guarantee the diversity of the newly built structures? If there is one dominant owner, for example the city itself, than I would suggest to divide the larger plots into smaller ones as to evolve the multiplicity and variation any city needs to become a desirable place to live an work. A balanced mix of houses to live and places to work is mandatory for a livable city. Strong architectural characters can be imagined from scratch, others can be rebuilt from memory, both attitudes should get a chance.

013 | Zaha’s Calligraphic Sweeps

LIWA dunes bu Dhabi
LIWA dunes Abu Dhabi

Emotive designer

Having met Zaha Hadid only a number of times personally, I will not reflect on these otherwise memorable encounters, but rather on her work as an emotive architect. Exactly the emotive factor links her designs with mine and not surprisingly also with the Powerlines paintings of Ilona. In 2001 I wrote my inaugural speech for the TU Delft and titled it Towards An Emotive Architecture. I founded the Hyperbody research group at the TU Delft, fully dedicated to the exploration of complex geometry, interactive architecture and real time design games. Over the past 16 years we educated hundreds of young designers in Hyperbody, quite a few of them found their way to Zaha’s office. Likewise our office in Rotterdam functioned as one of the gateways to Zaha’s design studio.

Zaha Hadid | Performing Arts Center | Abu Dhabi 2007
Zaha Hadid | Performing Arts Center | Abu Dhabi 2007

10 x 10

In 2004/2005 Zaha selected our competition design for the U2 Tower in Dublin [2003] and the Web of North Holland [2002] to be represented in the collectioner’s book 10x10_2 [10 architects selected by 10 architects]. I like to think that Zaha and her team were charmed by the emotive nature of our design, by the muscular sweeping shape. Anyway, what I do like about Zaha’s designs is the strong emotional physicality of her sweeping gestures, mostly horizontally stretched, just as far as the arm can reach on the drawing table. Gestures like calligraphy, fully embodied in the middle part of the graph, their tipping points stretching to become a single fine line. Appearing and disappearing. She was clearly more confident with horizontally stretched gestures than with vertically directed sweeps. Her skyscraper designs never radiated the same power as the horizontally stretched designs,  merging the building with the landscape. Almost as a rule the curved contour lines of the buildings extended themselves into the landscape, from the very beginning of her career in design for the Hong Kong Peak and the Vitra Fire Station, until her last published designs such as the Performing Arts Center for Abu Dhabi and the Tokyo Olympic Stadium.

Elegant sweeps

And very consistently Zaha’s sweeps are elegant, strong, lighthearted and beautiful. I would not hesitate to label these as a form of sweeping calligraphy, therewith embodying her Arabic background. Zaha must have loved the giant sand dunes south of the LIWA desert. I was so fortunate to have an Arab client from Abu Dhabi who was born in the LIWA Oasis, eventually naming our tower design in the Capital Center district in Abu Dhabi the LIWA tower, it must reminded him of the gentle curves and the colour of his native desert. Zaha obviously had the desert in her eyes, translated into such gently sweeping gestures.

012 | The Smog Free Illusion

Twan Huys did in my opinion in the last College Tour with Daan Roosegaarde a proper journalism job to confront his guest with opinions of respected experts who question how he wants to deal with his fame. Best television I have seen lately. Daan is clearly lifted on the horse by certain media [DWDD, Zomergasten] and supported by the disruptive community, and he simply has to deal professionally with that position. Otherwise his pride becomes before his fall.

Not the person
The critique should not be focused on the person, everyone has the right to be as one sees oneself, be it arrogant, narcissistic, aimable, self-satisfied or the ideal son. The unconvenience is that Daan is seen by many of his followers as a kind of bringer of salvation, while he has seemingly no problem being addressed like that. Yet this is irrelevant in the discussion. What matters is content, what matters are the scientific facts.

Neither the technology
The technology that is used by the popular artist is not subject to debate either, these techniques do work properly, albeit on a smaller scale. And that is exactly the problem with these technologies that Roosegaarde has chosen to apply, these technologies simply can not be scaled up like that. Induction works properly in intimate distances for low energy apparatuses like cellphones, toothbrushes and atmospheric lighting, but effectively not on the grand scale of highways. Similarly softly glowing light embedded in the pavement for bicycle paths can not replace safe lighting. It may indeed lead you the way, but de facto alienates you from the surrounding context. And ionisation works properly in controlled environments but certainly is underperforming when it comes to windy open air spaces.

But the Smog Free illusion
Placing a Smog Free Tower outdoor and claiming that it cleans polluted air of a neighbourhood is comparable to placing your fireplace outside and claim that you are heating up the neighbourhood. It simply doesn’t effectively, and similarly the Smog Free Tower certainly does not clean up a neighbourhood, nor does it clean up properly the indicated ground surface area of some 100m2. I would need verified scientific proof, I would need monitoring the immediate environment of the Smog Free Tower as to get my proof of the pudding, it needs to be verified before making such claim. By stating that it does clean the environment Roosegaarde ignores the huge column of air above which is constantly being mixed up with the lower parts. Even if one would rule that unconvenient reality out, then even a moderate wind would blow every bit of cleansed air away. Air is a gaseous material and want to reach its equilibrium according to the laws of nature. This ionisation technology is proven to work in controlled environments, in closed or semi-closed spaces, and the essence of an outdoor space is that it is not a controlled environment. Therefore Roosegaarde’s tower most likely is a falsification, and therewith creating a counterproductive illusion. What it does is creating an illusion, in which well-meant sweetness people are obviously tempted to believe in, because it would be so nice if it would be true, it feels so good to believe in it. But indeed the followers of Daan Roosegaarde and Daan himself seem very complacent, being very pleased with themselves, drunk on goodness. They must feel they have all the good intentions with the future of the earth, yet in fact they are instrumental in distracting the discussion from real solutions, regrettably the followers of bringers of salvation rather believe in such sweet miracles.

011 | Game Changers

Author: Kas Oosterhuis | 2014

Director ONL [Oosterhuis_Lénárd] | Professor Hyperbody Department of AE&T Faculty of Architecture TU Delft


We are living inside evolution. There is nothing more exciting than to realize that the billions of components which constitute today’s built environment are subject to continuous change and evolution. Specifically in the building industry the major game changer is the shift from mass production methods to made to measure processes for the masses. Now both the production industry and the individual makers can produce series of unique nonstandard components cheaper and better than the earlier series of the same which earmark the building boom we have left behind us. This paper addresses the implications of the long tail of the building industry revolutionizing the next generation buildings. Buildings will never be the same, there will no more repetition of components from a catalog, each design will create its own families of uniquely shaped parametric building components, uniquely behaving distributed climatic de- vices and personalized interaction apps effectuating the movements and intentions of the users in real time. The next generation building is fundamentally generic, following simple rules as to generate complexity, based on open design systems, its design being inherently participatory and inclusive. The actuating climatic and structural building and interior components cooperate with their identified users as in a swarming hive of things and people. The author illustrates the game change with built examples from his own design practice and with examples from his university based research group.

Keywords: game change, evolution, mass customization, made to measure, tag, identity, nonstandard, makers, the long tail, next generation, parametric, top down, bottom up, swarm behavior, distributed, climate design, structural design, personalization, preferences, body, styling, powerlines, feature lines, vectorial, drivers, data exchange, lean, app, real time, fundamentals, rule based, generic, generative, algorithm, complexity, open design system, design game, participation, interaction, actuators, actor network, hive, inclusive.

1.        Generic < > Specific

First of all there is an urgency to rethink the understanding of the word generic in relation to architecture and urban design. The word generic has been popularized by Rem Koolhaas in the nineties and many, including Koolhaas himself, have misleadingly interpreted the generic into a supposedly objective aesthetics for architectural design, while in a populist fashion being offensive to other design attitudes, and blaming them to be specific. Therewith suggesting that generic is good, and specific bad, implying that architects who choose a different path are simply wrong. Such method of communication is straightforwardly populist, very similar to those populist framing, naming and blaming debating techniques that we all too often see in politics today.

Synonyms for generic are among others are, according to a google search: general, common, collective, non-specific, inclusive, all-inclusive, all-encompassing, broad, comprehensive, blanket, umbrella, sweeping, universal. Let us apply the meaning of  the

02 LIWA tower

Figure 2. ONL | LIWA tower | 2013

word generic now on the distinction that is made between geometrically simple shapes and geometrically complex shapes. Which one of the two is the generic, and which one the specific. In common understanding, and exploited by OMA and their numerous offspring like MVRDV, Neutelings, DKV, KCAP, BIG, the simple platonic shapes are considered generic and for the common people, while the nonstandard geometry is considered to be specific and elitist. I will contradict the above populist reading and argue for the exact opposite understanding of the terms generic and the specific.

It is hard if not impossible to describe complex shapes starting from simple platonic forms. One will have to add, rotate, scale, chamfer and fillet thousands of iterations before something could have been achieved that comes close to a complex shape. And it would certainly lack intelligence and internal consistency, it would simply be an series of arbitrary actions to produce something that only superficially will look like complexity. From the other perspective, from the point of view of complexity theory, it is easy to describe a simple rectangular shape, simply by drastically reducing the number of reference points. Typically a box has eight vertexes to describe the box, while a complex doubly curved volume may require thousands of vertexes to properly describe the shape. The point to make here is that the complex shape is intrinsically inclusive since it includes a possible description of a simple box, while the simple platonic shape is exclusive in its nature—and hence elitist—since it excludes any possible description of a complex shape. The platonic volume must therefore be seen as a specific instance of complexity. Hence I must conclude that the nonstandard is generic and the platonic specific. Hereafter I will take it one step further and will argue that true complexity is based on simple rules, complex but not complicated.

Let me illustrate the above statement that the nonstandard is the true generic with two examples, one benchmark design by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and my own recently realized design for the LIWA Tower in Abu Dhabi. I am great admirer of Van der Rohe,  I will reflect on his work in the context of his time, which is to me the proper way to do. Implying that I would not even consider of superficially copying any of his designs or parts of his design, neither try to re-interpret his work with the technologies of today. Instead  I look at the technologies that are available to us today and draw my logical conclusions to establish an internal logic and stylistic language that is in synch with the spirit of today. Van der Rohe’s Seagram Building in Manhattan in New York [1958] is an uncompromising elegant expression of mass production methods, therewith capturing the fascination of the times, building that new immaculate world leaving the scars of WW II behind. Now we live in years ten of the 21st Century, that is 64 years or 2–3 generations later, and we live in a different world, new technologies shaping our daily lives. The end of the fifties were characterized by the rise and shine of television, and the invention of the integrated circuit [Kilby 1958], which effectively provoked the age of computation. The early decades of our century are flooded by easily available computational design techniques and computer numerical controlled fabrication techniques that are taking advantage of the computing power of powerful microchips. The LIWA tower in Abu Dhabi which my office completed this year is exemplary for the potential of parametric design techniques and mass customization production techniques, brought to live by an uncompromising design concept and an well developed opinion on the shaping of the building body imposing fluid powerlines on the point cloud of reference points constituting the DNA of the structural skin. Now seen from the technological and social perspective of today, if we would model the generic inclusive approach of the fifties, as represented by the Seagram Building, in a systemic parametric design, we would actually voluntarily cage ourselves in one specific instance of thousands parametric possibilities, falsely justified by a nostalgic feeling for the beauty of the past. The method of scalable mass customization is a game changer.

2.        Complex < > Complicated 

Although Frank Gehry is widely praised for his contribution to nonstandard archi- tecture, his realized works show very little of that. Basically he was and remained deconstructivist in his design attitude, not nonstandard. The design process in Gehry’s office would typically develop as follows: 1] a loose but traditional arrangement of functional blocks would form the basis for the project, satisfying the functional needs of the client. In another room many paper models are made as to wrap around these functional volumes, typically not wrapped all around, but only partially as to generate at least one intriguing view fit for publication in the architectural magazines. Then the paper models are digitized with a 3d digitizer, snapping at points on the surface of the crushed silvery paperwork. These points are then conveyed to the 3d modeling program Digital Project and from there entrusted to Autocad. The complexity of this process hardly deserves to be understood as complex but must be considered complicated instead.

For a proper understanding of the silent yet deep revolution that is taking place in the building industry, motivated by the rise of digital media, social media and industrial mass customization, it is necessary to make a clear distinction between the complex  and

03 Gehry entrance Stata Center

Figure 3. Gehry | entrance Stata Center | 2004

04 iWEB entrance

Figure 4. ONL| iWEB entrance | 2002

the complicated. Where complexity based on simple rules that take control of the complete project, complicatedness is the compilation of ad hoc solutions for each corner of the project. Complexity is where the exception freely exploits the rule, while complicatedness suffers from a multitude of laborious exceptions to standard products. In complexity de- signs where all constituting parts are interconnected and interwoven, where the details are developed as specifications of a basic building component. For example in the design for the iWEB the canopy doors are a specification of the generic node detail. For the iWEB the door is not imported from a building catalog as in the case of the entrance of the Stata Centre, but stems directly from the parametric design system. Complexity is generic, complicatedness specific. Complexity is inclusive, while complicatedness is deeply rooted in the standard and hence discriminatory with respect to the nonstandard. Complexity based on simple rules is a true game changer.

3.        Component < > Composition 

Traditionally the education and profession of architecture circles around the mythical properties of the architectural composition. When one starts thinking of any spatial arrangement  as  a  composition,  one  voluntarily  chooses  an  immaterial programmatic top-down view on the project. In digital design circles at the other hand it is the tweaking of parametric patterns that takes on mythical properties. This other view, which is generative in its nature, considers the construct as a build-up of varying interconnected building components, composing an emotive experience in space, usually along a predefined trajectory. I will argue here that neither approach alone can cover the complexity of any design task for a built construct. The bottom-up component approach should ideally be developed in a bipolar relationship with the top-down composition. The stronger the assumed polarity between composition and component, the stronger the potential for a strong conceptual force in the design. Bottom up individual character builds up inside a top down informed open design system. The wider the bandwidth between bottom up and top down the more excitement may be created in playing by the rules.

The development of parametric building blocks that are suited for the larger scale of building however is hardly touched upon in parametric circles. I have seen, especially in academic environments, a multitude of porous pavilions being designed, produced and assembled, along with a multitude of parametric organic fantasies, without any relationship to the actual building technologies that are badly needed to be developed in order to process the construction of larger building complexes. Typically in any Gehry design the parametric strategy is limited to the complicated loose wrappings around otherwise traditional spatial designs, built according to traditional building methods like in situ cast con- crete, welding on site, and worst of all on site plaster works finishings. In Gehry’s designs there is not a smart and lean relationship between structure and skin, let alone between skin, structure and interior finishing. Therefore the Gehry designs loose their conceptual strength completely when it comes to the bipolar relationship between composition and component. In Gehry’s designs the traditional composition rules, the constituting components of the skin are subordinated to its banal composition, failed to be integrated into the structural design, and hence clueless and nothing more than decoration.

06 Parametric building blocks Hyperbody MSc2 project

Figure 6. Hyperbody | Parametric building blocks MSc2 project | 2009

This polemic essay aims at arguing for an even further integration than that of structure and skin, I advocate the design of building components that are semi-permeable skin, load bearing structure and climatic performative in one. Once such full fledged integration is reached, its naturally will be charmingly decorative as well in its detailing, with- out the need for a separate decorative layer. Ideally structure and skin work together as to transfer the loads, ideally each building component performs a specified programmable task as to bring in fresh air, pump out spoiled air, generate heat or radiate coolness,  filter particles, let in daylight or light up using LED lights. Ideally the entire building consists of interconnected families of specified building components, each of them acting/performing locally and interacting with the changing weather conditions at the exterior side of the skin, and with the whimsical needs of the users at the interior side. Ideally each building component is part of a parametric family finding it own dimensions, shape and weight as to per- form generously within its local context. Necessarily each building component is scripted in the design phase, CNC produced as to be mass customized and produced cost-effectively. Logically each building component would have its own identity and brains as to act locally and as to communicate with their nearest neighbors in real time, continuously updating its current state and informing its closest environment about that current state. The good news is that such ideal building component is a definite reality, since it can be made by thoughtfully applying currently available technologies, and that it can be achieved within standard budgetary constraints. Buildings which are in their entirety composed of interacting swarms of performative mass customized building components definitely represent a game change. The sad news however is that the processes that are necessary to achieve this are heavily compromised by the traditional way larger buildings are currently financed, programmed, designed, tendered, produced and managed. I will enlarge upon this issue in another essay, but it has to be mentioned here as to avoid picturing an overly optimistic scenario.

4.        Actor Network < > Grid 

The above described unique performative building components form an actor network, as opposed to a tessellated grid that organizes a collage of largely identical elements ordered from a building catalog. In the network the nodes are the actors that are connected

Figure 7. Manhattan grid

08 Digital Pavilion Seoul

Figure 8. ONL | Digital Pavilion Seoul | 2006

to each other via the edges, in the grid the fields inside the grid lines are isolated objects with no relation to each other. The design concept I am looking at when declaring that  the components of the next generation building embody the best of both of these worlds. The grid, turned into a non Euclidean parametric tessellation, allows for a specific performance of each embraced field within the grid. While the edges of the components may form the structural connections between the nodes, the centers of gravity of the enclosed fields may constitute the network of wirelessly connected, interactive, sensitive components,   in its essence similar to the individual high rise jutting out of the Manhattan grid system. “Maybe their very lack of character provides the best context for living” (R. Koolhaas, Wired, 1996). Koolhaas argues for a generic grid that allows individual well-being and growth. The critique I have on his seemingly self-evident statement is that Koolhaas retroactively uses the grid and what is contained inside the grid as a formal language. The open parametric design system, which is based on the higher level nonstandard grid that I am propagating here is in a flexible way adaptive to externally changing circumstances, and internally open to the individual acts of owners, clients and users.

The theory and practice of actor networks in the built environment is surprisingly enough almost literally described by Marvin Minsky in his book The Society of Mind (1988), but then projected on the human brain and its connections. Minsky constructs a model of human intelligence which is built up from the interactions of simple parts called agents, which are themselves relative simple, while their interactions constitute the society of mind. Interestingly the words and descriptions Minsky uses to describe his theory resonate almost 1:1 with the words and terms I am using to describe our agent based smart building component system. Now replace the agents of the human brain with the information processing building components, and it is immediately clear that Minsky’s insights potentially means a true revolution when mapped on the theory and practice of the next generation building. The notion that the building is a society of agents, as opposed to a formal system like a grid system, in nothing less than a game changer. The interacting building components form together in all their complex relationships the society of body. I no longer consider to add brains to the building body, but consider the building to be the brain.

5.        Open Design System < > Proprietary design 

My office has been experimenting with open parametric design systems for more than a decade. In 1998 I designed the Attractor Game as an open design game which enables to play with the parameters as to define an urban plan for 1500 homes in Groningen. Designing an architectural game means setting the rules which can be played by myself and by others as well. Compare it to a tennis game. Some inventive mind at a certain moment in time has proposed the rules of the game, to be played by anyone, amateurs and professionals alike. The level of the skills of the player is decisive for the attractiveness of the outcome of the game as executed. Exactly like this I foresee that the profession of architectural design will evolve. The expert formerly known as the architect [The Expert Formerly Known As The Architect, Linkedin discussion group initiated by the author in 2010] opens up the design process to clients, to college experts and to end-users as well. Basically everyone who is in one or another way involved in the development of the design is a valuable player, a co-designer, a co-creator, playing by the rules as set by the game developer. Even the expert formerly known as the quantity surveyor becomes a designer in its own right, since he/she has quantifiable influence on the outcome of the design game, he/she becomes the quantity designer. Open design designs systems are here set against traditionally proprietary design practices, where the single lead designer claims full authorship, regardless of how  much

09 Attractor Game

Figure 9. ONL | Attractor Game | Groningen 1998

10 Climbing Wall grasshopper

Figure 10. ONL | grasshopper information feedback | Climbing Wall Amsterdam | 2012

actually is decided by this designer. The distribution of authorship right has to be reconsidered, and even more relevant, the architect has to redefine its expertise. What exactly is the authority of the architect in a multi-player design environment? A broader discussion on this subject is badly needed, but falls beyond the scope of this essay.

The design of the rules of the game may be an open design process as well. Open source techniques are available to develop the rules on an open programming platform, where invited and/or self-invited individuals contribute to the scripting of the rules. The open source society has not yet produced convincing examples of open source design. The best examples are momentarily seen in the automotive industry, the building industry probably one of the last industries to follow. The open design system must be accessible for all, clients and users participate in the design game as experts and are considered equal to designers, engineers and marketeers. Any building becomes a personal MyBuilding in the eyes of every participant in the open design game. Anyone who participates acts per definition locally and feels him/herself to be the center of the design universe of that particular moment in time that he/she is acting inside the game. One is either in the game or looking at the game. While traditional participation largely is limited to raising voices and commenting on a closed process, true co-design and co-creation means that one is in the executable process of the game. Such participatory design is a true game changer for the profession of architecture.

6.    The expert formerly known as the architect [TEFKATA] < > the master builder 

I believe the most important question architects must ask themselves today is: what exactly is my expertise? Am I that generalist, known as the master builder, who knows a little bit of everything, as is still propagated by the majority of academic educators? Or am I the specialist, being the expert in a specific field of knowledge? And if so, what exactly could that field of knowledge be? It may be clear that I advocate the second option, being a specialist. But a specialist in what? In any case, the TEFKATA will be one specialist acting in a swarm of many other specialists. Anyone whose knowledge and experience has influence on the size, material, structure, shape, production, assembly, climate, performance, costs and user management of the built construct, must be considered to be a designer, proportionally to its available or acquired budget authorized to make decisions. Such a specialist is an expert designer, in a team of other experts. All of these experts have their own opinion, but limited to the field of deep knowledge they represent. All of these experts must respect the authority of other experts, as they are respected themselves by the others. The traditional master builder would claim to know how many of the other fields of knowledge must be integrated to form a consistent whole. But is that true? In my 301 years experience as a practicing architect I have seen many other experts of other fields being perfectly capable of doing that as well, many of these experts are well educated and have a good understanding how things may be integrated. I think the integration will come from the swarm when all individual experts communicate in a 1:1 bottom-up fashion with their nearest neighbours. This will lead to much more consistent piece of work than when there is top-down 12 ONL diagram protoBIM

Figure 12. ONL |protoBIM |diagram data-exchange between experts | 2010

puppeteer leader, who imposes his/her limited knowledge on experts with more knowledge in their own fields. In the swarm picture there is not one leader, but a rotating leadership. All experts would in principle move freely in relation to each other, taking pole position alternately one after the other, taking advantage of the lee side by letting someone else do the hard work in the forefront position. Just like in any group contest there will be a winner in the multi-player design game, which is the one who plays his/her cards on the most strategic moments, which is the one who plays the game most skillfully. But in principle they start as equals and at the same time. It is crucial that the team should be established as from the very beginning of the process of developing conceptual ideas and specialized designs. To reach this goal the contractual client consultant relationship and the tender procedures be must reconsidered.

The TEFKATA must find its expert niche in the new way of collaborative design and engineering. In the Hyperbody master design courses I typically organize the brief in such a way that the students, work in groups of 4–6 people, and that each student chooses an expertise. The student then for a number of weeks looks at the project from the viewpoint of this field of expertise. For example the shaper, which is the person that gives shape to no matter what, would look at the form and styling of any building component, including structural and climatic components. In fact this student must develop an opinion on the shape and the style. When the student would choose to be the material expert, he/she would dive deep into material aspects of all constituting components of the built construct. It is clear that one single student would never be able to dive that deep in all different aspects of something as complex a the built environment, it is too big for one student to handle and to excel in all finesses. Typically during one semester I stimulate the students to swap roles, as to see the project from another point of view, and be very serious and ambitious about that new role. The TAFKATA definitely is a game changer.

7.        Least common multiple < > Greatest common divisor 

Just there, just that, just then, just thus. This could very well serve as the leading motto for the leanest possible form of data-exchange between the experts in the multi- player design game. The ambition is to exchange no more data than is strictly necessary for the connected expert to perform their task.

I was much impressed by the Apollo-Soyuz connection which took place on the 17th of July 1975, for obvious reasons. The less obvious reason, but the only relevant reason in the context of this essay, is the shear elegance and lean nature of the connection. Americans and Soviets needed to agree on only one connection, the technology and   the

13 Apollo Soyuz connection

Figure 13. Apollo-Soyuz connection | 1975

14 Waterpavilion connection

Figure 14. ONL / NOX | Waterpavilion connection | 1997

diameter of the docking ring. The two spaceships were of completely different design, on all those aspects the Americans and the Soviets did not have to agree at all, only the docking ring matters. It clarifies the meaning and importance of lean data exchange. In order to cooperate they did not need to exchange their complete BIM models, but only the details of the ring instead. How elegant, how essential. When it came to find a basis for cooperation between ONL and NOX during the early design process of the Waterpavilion at Neeltje Jans [an artificial island between the impressive sea barriers], we decided to minimize the amount of items to agree upon to that which was strictly necessary to connect. It was agreed to meet in one common ellipsoidal section, whereas ONL would cover the ellipse at the outside, and NOX would slightly protrude at the inside as to materialize the connection. That was all, there was no more direct collaboration than common presence in meetings with the client Rijkswaterstaat. The interesting observation during the opening party was that the public did not seem to notice in the interior the transition between the silver grounded beast of NOX with the black stranded sculpture. Both sides were so special and unique in their design approach that it was experienced as a continuity, just like the internal transition from Apollo to Soyuz.

When exchanging data with the structural engineer, I give them only reference points and/or reference lines [data in the form of coordinates], and some metadata, which may label a node as moment fixed or hinged, or describe a surface enclosed by the reference lines as closed or open [capturing loads / wind loads or not]. Before starting the design work

15 Star Wars Death Star attacked by Luke Skywalker

Figure 15. Star Wars Death Star attacked by Luke Skywalker, |“Feel the Force”

I sit together with the engineer precisely what data can be read directly into their software, and then I export only those data, and certainly not the complete BIM model of my design. In fact I share as few data as possible. I share just the least common multiplier of data, as opposed to the greatest common denominator that is shared in the traditional linear design development chain. I share just that. This principle of lean data sharing characterized the lean data exchange process, in all phases of the design development. When exchanging data to the CNC machines one exports only those data which are read and understood by the CNC machine, just that. That machine produces just that unique building component that fits only just there, and is assembled on site just then.

Luke Skywalker just then intuitively pushes the button as to destroy the much hated Death Star [Star Wars Episode VI, 2005], the image of which has been without doubt inspired on the massive bronze spheres [1963] by Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro. Skywalkers’ intuition has been extensively trained as to feel the force. Similarly to be able to fit unique building components just there and just then, it needs a solid preparation in the parametric open design game. Such precision provides for the justification to perform exactly like that at that particularly moment in time and space, which is why the building component must act just thus. The just there, just that, just then, just thus strategy is the ultimate game changer to redefine the very nature of the design game.

010 | TGV Station Liège-Guillemins

Calatrava | TGV Station Liege-Guillemin | 2009
Calatrava | TGV Station Liege-Guillemins | 2009

In one day in spring 2010 Ilona and I went to see the TGV station of Santiago Calatrava in Liège and the Centre Pompidou dependance in Metz. Although at first sight applying similar technologies, the contrast between the two buildings could not be more dramatic. Both buildings have cost a fortune, but were both buildings worth it? A Belgium architect has declared that Calatrava is a bank robber, since the building of the TGV station turned out to be overly expensive. Now I have been there, I see that it must have been expensive, but I think it is worth it, since it represents in all its pores an image of clarity and consistency. I expect that the building is fit for a long life and an that it will be respected as an inspiring intervention in the otherwise decaying city fabric of Liege. No doubt that Liege will benefit from it in the long run. The structure itself is a convincing example of the integration of design and structure, of visual lightness and structural performance, a structure that encourages an elevated stroll. The design is undoubtedly following a functional logic, a structure featuring a large free span of the roof and a delicate dimensioning and detailing of the shops and the cafe´s in the underpass, where the public can literally feel the structure and the materials from very close. Being there makes you feel being part of a documentary movie, as if one is an active player negotiating with the movements of the trains, monitoring the come and go of the cars to and from the parking garage. The flow of people and the feature lines of the design are merged in beauty. One can not but physically feel the real time motion interlaced with the frozen dynamics.

009 | Stata Center entrance

Gehry |Stata Centre Boston | 2004
Gehry |Stata Centre Boston | 2004

Seen from a distance a recent Gehry building may look like a sculpture. But when approaching that Gehry building, any Gehry building, from the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to the Stata Center in Boston, the building becomes uncomfortably more and more traditional. Finally when entering the building via the entrance there is not much special about it. You enter through a regular mass produced facade, through regular doors, built up with regular profiles, be it in the deconstructivist way brutally cut off at varying angles. Decon as usual, nothing nonstandard about it. I appreciate Gehry Technologies [GT] for their great Digital Project [DP] software, but even Jim Glymph of GT told me back in 1998 that he was admiring the awesome achievements concerning the design and execution of the Saltwater Pavilion at Neeltje Jans. DP was created to rebuild Gehry´s wrinkled and distorted silver paper models into something manageable and buildable. When the starting point of a design concept remains rooted in old concepts, the realized building will communicate in the first place the outdated concept and not the new technology, there will always be an inconvenient friction between the designer´s concept and the contractor´s execution. When there is not established a direct link between BIM and CNC the execution can be done, but it will not be consistent, it will cost an unproportionally large sum of money and is hence a threat for the truly nonstandard designers who seriously strive for the unbroken link from their generative design concept using parametric modeling in the earliest design phases to a proper CNC manufacturing procedure.

008 | Palaisquartier Frankfurt

Maasimiliano Fuksas | alaisquartier Frankfurt | serious mistakes in the geometry of steel structure leads to messy welding of the nodes
Maasimiliano Fuksas | alaisquartier Frankfurt | serious mistakes in the geometry of steel structure leads to messy welding of the nodes

Messy welding

At first sight the roof of the shopping center in the Palaisquartier in Frankfurt has the looks of a nonstandard structure. But look carefully, the detail is welded with very low precision. In the design stage there was the nonstandard concept design of the renowned Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas, there had been an intentional 3d wireframe mesh, but it was erroneously not executed using a precisely controlled CNC production process. Apparently the steel structure was manually drawn in 3d, not generated by scripts as it should have been. Many of the steel components were cut to length on site, the pieces were welded together on site in an extremely brutal fashion.  I feel obliged to show this example for educational reasons, not to blame anyone in this project, not the architect, not the engineer, not the manufacturer. But it is obvious that something went wrong. The link between the file and the factory was broken. There should have been an immediate link from a scripted high precision detail to the with high precision CNC produced components, to be dry assembled on site with zero tolerance. It should absolutely have been avoided to be welded on site since that introduces so much imprecision. Unfortunately, I have experienced a similar problem while building the CET in Budapest. In much the same way that the construction designs of the Bird´s Nest and the Water Cube in Beijing have been compromised by a traditional construction approach, also the execution of the CET has regrettably been subject to old school construction methods. The problem is how to secure a sustainable nonstandard design and building process. The solution is to secure an unbroken link from BIM to CNC production to dry montage of the unique pieces of the 3d puzzle. Breaking the direct link, that is not transmitting the exact data from the “design” phase into the “build” phase of the design & build process, is a recipe for putting back innovation in the building industry.

007 | LIWA tower | BIM

007 LIWA Tower BIM

LIWA tower | design Kas Oosterhuis / VAA.ONL | completed 2013 Abu Dhabi
LIWA tower | design Kas Oosterhuis / VAA.ONL | completed 2013 Abu Dhabi

In 2006 ONL has won the design for the Al Nasser Headquarters tower in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates via an invited international competition. The client Mr Al Nasser owns a steel company and has chosen ONL´s iconic design, by far the most challenging of the competition entries, as he liked the exposed nonstandard steel structure inside and the metal duotone finishing of the exterior facade panels. Only in the final design stage the client as represented by Northcroft Middle East realized that all steel components and all windows are indeed different in shape and dimensions. They were fascinated by this fact but at the same time worried if this would be feasible within the strictly commercial budget they had defined for this project. Thanks to the precise control ONL successfully has monitored on the data as extracted from the Revit BIM model they were convinced that it was feasible indeed. The smart BIM model has served many purposes. In the first place ONL appointed no more then one single highly skilled architect, the young Gijs Joosen MSc, to be the executive architect and the BIM modeller in one. No information was lost in translation. The BIM model allowed for tweaking the curvatures of the shape of the office tower until the requested maximum GFA was reached, while maintaining the uniqueness of all constituting components and the unique configurations of each office floor. Any change in the curvature affects the square footage of each floor and hence the allowed GFA. Furthermore it facilitated to communicate with high precision with the local architects ACG who were responsible for acquiring the building permit and responsible for the calculations of the steel structure. The Al Nasser HQ is now under construction and will be finished in 2013.

PS: the building is now renamed into the LIWA tower

006| Bálna BIM

006 | Bálna BIM

CET / Bálna on Autodesk Revit cassette cover | 2010
CET / Bálna on Autodesk Revit cassette cover | 2010

In summer 2007 ONL, together with the Hungarian project developer Porto Hungary Kft, has won an international tender to build a cultural mixed use center in the heart of the Pest side of Budapest, on a truly unique location at the banks of the Danube. The nonstandard design includes the conversion of the old Közraktárak warehouses, and completes it with a bold new structure, jutting out southbound towards new developments along the river. The building is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2010. The design stands out as an uncompromising nonstandard design. The notion of nonstandard was already promoted by a small but influential cultural elite in Budapest in the first decade of 21st century, I was interviewed for the magazines Atrium and Octogon. There were also designs developed for Budapest by other players in the international arena, there was a kidney shaped office building by Zaha Hadid for Tervita Square and another office building design by Asymptote in the odd form of two giraffe blockheads. These projects stranded because of their financial and urban arrogance, ignoring local rules and commercial financial constraints. I did not fall into that trap, since I respected the urban guidelines and the available budget. I was able to develop a feasible nonstandard design within these severe constraints. One of the strongholds of the success formula was the Building Information Model that was modeled in Revit, allowing to work in real time connected work groups in ONL´s Budapest and Rotterdam offices. Eventually ONL was rewarded the Autodesk Revit Experience Award in fall 2008, by and large because the complex triangulated mesh was successfully imported in the otherwise starched parametric Revit software and used to model the steel structure. One person in Budapest would control all concrete components, another the old warehouses, a third all installations, while in Rotterdam the complexity of nonstandard geometry was controlled. The four work groups updated their work on a daily basis. Instant updating was in principle possible but would have taken too much transmitting time, and hence would have slowed down the work. Autodesk was happy with the achievements, which made them decide to obtain one of the CET renders in the opening window of Revit version 2010, also appearing on the cover of the Revit 2010 CD cassette.