Thursday, 29 August 2013

Designing the Unimaginable

What if architects were liberated from the constraints of their imagination? What would the world be like then? This is the central idea in architect Michael Hansmeyer’s inspiring TED talk, Building Unimaginable Shapes.
Hansmeyer has taken inspiration from nature, specifically the division of cells, to design a process that can then be used to create new and ‘unimaginable’ shapes and structures. The idea is simple: take a cube, and fold it, and fold it, and fold it, sometimes hundreds and thousands of times. The creation of a computer algorithm makes this process, that is both simple, yet impossible for humans to carry out, feasible. The outcome is anything but simple: resulting shapes are so deeply complex that they push the limits of what the human eye can see. Millions of surfaces weave and intersect in organic flourishes, reminiscent of microscopic details of crystalline structures.
An interesting exploration perhaps, but is it anything more than this? Does the natural environment serve humans well? Or is architecture used as a way to control the environment in which we live: a way of making inhospitable natural environments habitable? Perhaps we should be asking ourselves: why is this process useful? What is the benefit in building these deeply complex hitherto unimaginable shapes? As art? As decoration? Simply because we can? Or is it an important stepping-stone to a more autonomous design-process that could eventually be affected by contextual considerations, like an organism that grows and changes in response to its surroundings? Or does the introduction of contextual adaptations just make it another tool in a designer’s toolbox?
The talk certainly raises interesting questions about the limits and applications of the human imagination, but more than this, it showcases some genuinely awe-inspiring architectural forms. The resulting structures are reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic landscape that wouldn’t look out of place in films like Alien or Oblivion.
Could these forms be scaled up into human colonies to meet the needs of overpopulated cities? I’m not sure, but I’m certainly enjoying imagining it!
Building Unimaginable Shapes can be viewed here.

(Written by Richard Conner, Assembly Studios' Managing Director).
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