Designing With Rules

We had our first review of our project with outside critics. We presented to Renee Cheng, Blaine Brownell, Andrea Johnson, Gayla Lindt and John Comazzi (our advisor). Our [100 word] synopsis of the project is below.


The housing demand that came as a result of the massive growth of Seoul during the mid-20th century was primarily met through the construction of high density superblock housing complexes that were designed with no regard to context, safety or identity. Plans for redevelopment of these complexes repeat these same mistakes. The ubiquitous nature of the problem necessitates a design intervention that can be rapidly developed and deployed, which can only be delivered through a parametric process. We aim to create a toolkit that architects can use to design locally sensitive interventions that re-purpose and re-imagine these buildings and their role within their context."

Our process for the project has been to tackle the problem from a variety of different fronts; study the urban condition of Seoul (and also superblock housing projects around the world), research pedagogically important collective housing projects around the world, define values from those projects, and develop a series of tools that evaluates and incrementally modifies the geometry of the site with respect to those values (the above image being one of the twelve different parametric tools that were developed).

The feedback from the review was generally positive. The reviewers all seemed to think that the problem was a worthwhile one to tackle. One question that was brought up had to do with answering the question, "how do we know that we're creating something better?" It's easy to hide behind the idea that we're creating a series of 'agnostic' tools that will do what is asked of them and won't make a value judgement. I think our next step in the process is to start tying together these different tools that have been developed in isolation and use them to start creating an architecture that we can evaluate (both qualitatively and quantitatively).

Seoul and Superblock Housing

The chosen site for our final project is the Dunchon-dong superblock housing complex that was built in four phases during the early 80s in the southeast section of Seoul.

These buildings currently exist as single use high rise housing complexes. We are critically examining that current configuration with respect to value, resiliency, and resident experience.

Seoul Maps by Sangyong Hahn

Seoul Maps by Sangyong Hahn

Because of the ubiquitous nature of our site, we are positioning our project as a critical response to the sort of development that is primarily concerned with delivering as many units to an area without regarding the context, safety and identity of the architecture. The scale that this project exists in the world necessitates a design intervention that can be rapidly developed and deployed, which is why we are looking to parametric design as the tool to realize our solution.

We're approaching this project in a multifaceted research process that looks at identifying the economic factors that created this housing in the first place, issues related to dwelling and identity in high rise housing and also through the perception of urban modern living through film.

We've been challenged to start proposing ideas while the research is ongoing, and the below image is an example of one of those. All of our studies so far have been primarily additive with a more surgical hand when it comes to demolition. Most of the redevelopment and parametric urbanism examples we've seen have been the tabula rasa type. This is an interesting distinction we've noticed between what's been done before and what we're proposing. It will be interesting to see how this develops over the semester.

Currently reading/watching...

"The Neighbourhood Unit" by Clarence Perry, "Complexity Economics: A Different Framework for Economic Thought" by W. Brian Arthur, "Matter Matters" by Manuel DeLanda,  Mon Oncle, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth


Master's Final Project - Departure Point

Something that's been present in a lot of the work that I've done (both professionally and academically) has been this interest in automation of the design process. Specifically looking at what sort of processes can be automated and critically evaluating the effect it has on the eventual product. A common attitude that I've encountered in both conversations with design critics as well as writings about automation (and I might start using the word parametrics interchangeable for automation even though I think there are subtle differences) is that the aesthetic effects of it should be fought against. I've always felt that this wasn't the most productive attitude because I've always thought of automation as a tool (and I'm paraphrasing Chris Erwin, a coworker I had at Thornton Tomasetti here) to, "automate the tasks that I don't like doing so I can focus my creative energies on problems I enjoy." This attitude I've also found mirrored in the work of Sergio Albiac, an artist whose process moves back and forth from digital and analog processes. Here's how he describes his process: Generative sketching or writing computer programs togenerate images that will be used as painting input, allows me to modify this traditional cycle of idea-sketch-work and transform the route and the goals with a degree of freedom that greatly stimulates my creativity. Now, the “sketching” begins with a very abstract idea in mind. Once you get used to transform ideas into computer code, generative sketching allows the exploration of artistic alternatives and it produces inspirational feedback in a way that is radically different as the traditional sketching process. Then, the generative sketch can become the final work or it can “demand” the rendering of a picture using traditional media.


Generative Sketch by Sergio Albiac

 Being reflective on the role that automation has in your process is one thing... I'm also interested in investigating sorts of problems that can only be solved through a rigorous process of defining the rules of action and acting on those rules in an uncompromising way. An architectural example that come's to mind is Christopher Alexander's "Houses Generated by Patterns." And finally, this project is also providing a testing ground for what a truly collaborative design project could look like as I've decided to team up with two of my extremely talented classmates Sangyong Hahn and Hwan Kim (hence the use of "we" and "I").

We've been asked by our critic to create a number of theses statements with a different number of word counts (100, 50, 25, 12, and 6). Our fifty word one is probably the closest to the spirit of the project as I'm currently envisioning it:

"Architecture is fighting a losing battle against obsolescence. The technology that surrounds us is constantly updating and improving, and any belief that the buildings we make can be timeless is wrong. Our project is to develop a strategy to adaptively reuse a ubiquitous building stock everywhere it exists in the world."