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Topic: Grad School

Complexity Machine 1

You will find links below to download the first release of the software I've been developing for my thesis project. The name has been changed to Complexity Machine 1 as a symbol of the ongoing nature of the investigation of which it is a part. Though intense efforts have been put into its development, those who download the software should be aware that it is not suitable for general use. There are still many bugs and missing functionality and it will probably crash on you. This however should not stop you from exploring what the software can do.

At this stage Complexity Machine 1 is outputting a wide variety of strange forms:

Sample Output from CM1

These forms are intriguing for their strangeness and how they record quirky behavior of the agents interacting in simulated space. My question to those of you who are willing to explore is: how can you imagine this software could be used to create architecture? Consider it a kind of speculative Rorschach test. Perhaps you don't consider it useful at all, or feel it needs some some vital piece of functionality before it's useful. Any and all suggestions, criticism or bug reporting are appreciated.

When you first start the software, you will see two windows: the main window where the simulation takes place and a second window that contains the controls. Dragging the mouse in the main window orbits the scene, which will be familiar to those who have used other 3D software. The control window has notes on other camera manipulations that are also possible. At the top of the control window you will notice a series of buttons that switch between different sets of controls, called tabs. Clicking the controls button will reveal common controls that govern the action of the simulation. Clicking on the play button will start the simulation and clicking it again will pause it. Clicking reset will cause the simulation to revert to its initial starting state. The environment tab controls how the ground plane and sky are rendered. The flock tabs contain parameters that govern the behavior and appearance of each flock, or group of agents, in the simulation. Flocks can be added to the simulation by clicking the add flock button in the controls tab.

As a starting point in your exploration, I've included a couple of preset simulation configurations, which can be used by clicking the preset_1 or preset_2 buttons in the default tab. Try running these simulations and then go to the flock tabs and make some adjustments to see how the behavior of the agents changes.

As you explore the software, be aware that at any point you may capture images, video or 3D files of what is currently displayed in the main window. To do this click the appropriate button in the controls tab. These files will be stored in the folder that contains the software. Please email any images, video or 3D files you generate to me along with your comments.

Thank you in advance to those who offer their feedback about this project.

Download for: Windows, Mac or Linux

No real installation is necessary to run the software. Just download the appropriate version corresponding to your operating system, unzip the file and run the cm1 application in the folder. In order to run Complexity Machine 1, your computer must have Java installed (most do these days). In order to capture video, Quicktime must be installed. Please email me with any questions or technical difficulties you encounter.

Posted on 12:16 AM by westr015 Architecture Computation Design Grad School Software Thesis

Topic: Grad School

Processing for Architects

I'm writing the software for my thesis project in Processing, an integrated development environment created by Ben Fry and Casey Reas as a tool for artists and designers to explore software development as a part of their creative work. Processing employs the Java programming language along with code libraries that provide a quick start for creative types to build software that deals with visual effects and interaction.

In architecture, while two dimensional images are useful, being able to produce and manipulate three dimensional data is even more so. Luckily Processing includes the capabilities of OpenGL, industry standard software for visualizing and creating 3D scenes. While most development environments require a fairly deep knowledge of the mechanisms within OpenGL, Processing takes care of these intricacies for the developer. Perhaps even more importantly, there are a growing number of Processing users who contribute code and help to those who are new to the tool.

To get started, you can download Processing for free. As an effort to speed the uninitiated along, I've created a simple example program (called a "sketch" in Processing parlance), that you can use to start exploring. Before we begin you will need a few supplies:

  • Processing
    Unzip it and place the "Processing" folder in with the rest of your applications (generally Program Files on Windows and Applications on Mac) and make a note of where you placed it.
  • Kristian Damkjer's very helpful OCD Library
    Unzip it and place the OCD folder in the libraries folder inside the Processing folder you placed in with your applications. (On Windows, something like c:\Program Files\Processing\libraries\ and on Mac something like /Applications/Processing/libraries/) This library makes moving around the 3D scene much less complicated.
  • My 3D Processing Example
    Unzip it and place the template3d folder on the desktop or similar location for now.

Start up Processing and select File > Open and locate the template3d folder. Select the template3d.pde file and then the Open button. What you'll be looking at is the Processing user interface with some sample code that I wrote to act as a starting point for 3D sketches.

Processing Interface

Press the Run button (the one at the top with the triangle) and the sketch will start up. The sketch generates a series of random boxes, which can be regenerated by pressing the R key.

The template3d sketch

Try moving around the scene by dragging the mouse around, which orbits the camera around. Holding down the Shift or Alt keys down while dragging will pan or tilt the camera, respectively. Pressing the X key will export a DXF file of the scene to the template3d folder and pressing the I key will export an image of the current view.

The navigation and export functions included in this example are the primary elements that I've identified as crucial for any Processing sketch that will be used in an architectural setting. The random boxes in the example are included as a basic introduction to drawing 3D geometry in Processing. Try changing the maxDimension value at the top of the code to something like 20 to see how a small modification can have a big effect on the output. The Processing site has some good tutorials, should you want to explore more.

I'll be writing about more Processing techniques useful for architectural work in the weeks to come.

Posted on 3:29 PM by westr015 Architecture Computation Design Grad School Thesis

Topic: Grad School

Thesis Introduction

I will be using this site over the next few months as a platform to share my progress in developing a software application, tentatively called Weaver. This is my thesis project, the final requirement in the Masters of Architecture program that I'm a part of at the University of Minnesota. In short, the software is an agent-based simulation environment for three dimensional form finding. Since this definition will confound nearly all readers, a more verbose description seems to be in order.

Agent-based simulations are most typically used these days for system optimization. Suppose a company that delivers milk wants to make their delivery routes more efficient - eliminating unnecessary detours, saving time and fuel. The old method involved careful tracking of delivery routes and best guesses for changes that might increase efficiency. In agent-based simulation, however, this work is left to the computer. All of the deliveries that need to be made are input into the computer and agents - in this the drivers in their trucks - are created in the software to fulfill those deliveries. Agents have at their disposal only a few simple rules by which to make decisions: don't make a delivery if one's already been made, make the distance between deliveries as short as possible, avoid the territory of other drivers, etc. When the simulation is run a rather remarkable thing happens. The digital drivers start developing incredibly efficient routes with only a few simple rules to guide them. More times than not the routes created will be more efficient than the those the company came up with using the old methods. Using computer simulation in this manner has proven so effective that companies have been created with simulation consulting as their express purpose. The complex, intricately ordered, and often surprising results of these simulations are products of a phenomena called emergence. It is emergence that is the primary focus of complexity science, a field that's been around for a few decades, but which has experienced tremendous growth in recent years. Complexity scientists study emergent phenomena from crowd behavior, insect communication, patterns in economic markets, and many more.

One of the most interesting characteristics of emergent, also called complex-adaptive, systems from a design perspective is their propensity for created some of the most strikingly beautiful visual effects in nature. The intricate movements of flocks, swarms and herds are all emergent phenomena; as are cellular growth patterns, synchronization in firefly signaling, and the dynamics of a crowded train station. All of these effects are the result, not of any leader or other ordering force, but of each individual in the group following a small set of simple rules. For a brief introduction to emergence, listen to this show from WNYC's Radio Lab or read Steven Johnson's book Emergence.

The software application I'm building (with Processing) is a sort of generic environment for setting up and running the types of simulations that lead to emergent phenomena. It's my hope that the software will act as a platform from which designers, or anyone else, can explore the rich variety of forms that can be produced by complex-adaptive systems. As the project progresses I will post more explanations, key discoveries, visual output from the software, code samples, and thoughts I have along the way. More soon...

Posted on 8:53 PM by westr015 Architecture Computation Design Grad School Thesis

Topic: Grad School

LED Screen Simulator

I've uploaded the software I made for the catalyst workshop, mentioned here. The file is a zip archive containing applications for windows, mac and linux, plus the source code. The application is a sort of single-purpose demo that I used for the presentation at the end of the workshop. It creates two LED screens that display a sequence of images, in this case a tv ad for Target and some graphics on the second screen commenting on the company (this data is for demo purposes only). To change the view in the application, use the arrow keys to rotate and the a and z keys to zoom in and out, respectively.

What may prove more useful - to someone - is the source code. The code was developed in Processing, a free and open source development environment geared toward artists and designers. Open the source code (led02.pde) in Processing and you'll find a generic object definition that can be used and extended in your own software.

This software was written as a quick hack for the workshop and is definitely not production quality. There is no warranty, support, etc. for this software. It is intended as a demonstration of a concept that may be useful to others developing similar software. Having said that, feel free to email if you have specific questions about it.


Posted on 1:46 PM by westr015 Architecture Computation Design Grad School Software

Topic: Grad School

Amy Landesberg workshop concludes

The catalyst workshop was a smashing success with blinkin' lights applied virtually to unassuming curtainwall structures around Minneapolis. My group grafted a double-layer mesh LED screen onto the facade of the Carlson School of Management, here on the U of M campus.

Carlson School of Management Photo by Evan Hall

Tension cables would run vertically a foot and two feet away from the glass curtain wall. LED cables (think rope lights) would then be secured onto the tension cables.

LED Mesh Structure Rendering by Keith Little

The effect would be a two-layer screen that could display any variety of digital raster graphics. We were envisioning multi-step process of automatic image and data collection by computer, follow by a mediation process in which people could "train" the system to show information of value to them. Ideally the graphics displayed would evolve according to the whims, desires, and politics of those mediating.

Carlson LED Screen Rendering by Evan Hall, Full Flash animation

I made a 3D visualization of the double-screen system in the development environment Processing, which I'll post more about soon.

Posted on 8:07 PM by westr015 Architecture Computation Design Grad School U of M

Topic: Grad School

Amy Landesberg workshop begins

Today is the start of a workshop called "Between Image and Architecture" taught by Amy Landesberg. We'll be working with curtainwalls... selecting a particular building to perform an intervention on. The scenario is that we will be "collaborating" with a conceptual artist to arrive at a proposal. The artists whose concepts we'll be working with: Ann Hamilton, Thomas Demand, Agnes Martin, Mel Chin, Josiah McElheny, Dan Flavin, and Jenny Holzer. More than just form or method, we will be using the works of these artists as conceptual inspiration. Ideas like "haze-making", interactive graphics, color, glass technologies, and more will come into play.

I'll be working with a few others to mutilate the corporate masterpiece that is the Carlson School of Management here on the U of M campus.

Posted on 3:57 PM by westr015 Architecture Design Grad School U of M

Topic: Grad School

New is a relative term.

A new semester started here at the University of Minnesota some six weeks ago and just now I remember I have this blog to post to. There are busy people in the world and then there are architecture grad students... can I get an amen?

Anyway, I somehow managed to put together the most radical-est semester ever this go 'round:

  • Studio is focusing on digital fabrication techniques and small spaces with Charlie Lazor and Garrett Finney.
  • A great seminar with Robert Ferguson called poetically "The Cave and the Light" in which we're tracing the slippery concept of the grotesque through architectural history.
  • A directed study with Lee Anderson exploring some generative methods for creating forms.

More on my progress along these lines of inquiry soon... now that I've got my bearings again.

Posted on 8:53 PM by westr015 Grad School

Topic: Grad School

Review what?

Review tomorrow for studio and I've got nothing but ideas. I've increasingly found, however, that this is not such a bad situation to be in. Some prefer have a building, but no ideas, which is much worse from my perspective. Some good quotes from a Cedric Price book I'm reading for studio:

Notes on
Cedric Price: Works II
Architectural Association, London, 1984.

p. 36: Architects should constantly recall the uses of buildings – namely, use, misuse, reuse, disuse and refuse.

p. 37: The built environment is becoming a generous repository of buildings for nervous minds rather than a three-dimensional manifestation of a current optimistic civilisation.

p. 54 Indeed an overwhelming desire to 'get it right the first time' in architecture and planning encourages the safe solution and the dull practitioner. As this sequence has become increasingly clear to the rest of society during the last thirty years, architecture has moved further and further from the areas of human endeavour that respond rapidly and effectively to society's needs and aspirations.

Posted on 12:43 PM by westr015 Architecture Grad School

Topic: Grad School

Area Student Still Lost in Rapson Hall

Why is it that, after wandering around this building for over 5 years, I can still get lost?


(south, west, north, and east basement corridors in Rapson Hall)

As you can see, the basement of the old part of the building is truly problematic. It's got a perfectly symmetrical plan. The same enameled block on all the walls. There's almost no indication of location here. I've even gone around one full circle before finding the classroom I need. Truly a dumbfounding experience.

Posted on 8:56 AM by westr015 Architecture Design Grad School U of M

Topic: Grad School

Architectural History Student Symposium

I'm at the first annual student symposium, sponsored by the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians. It's more interesting than it sounds. There are talks on pattern books, vedic influence on modern Indian architecture, art deco in the Twin Cities, the architecture of White Castle... and a lot more.

Student work is usually rather invisible. People get a grade in a history seminar for a paper they've spent months on, then no one ever sees it again. It's great to be able to see and hear some of the rigorous and innovative work that that students are doing all the time.

Posted on 9:29 AM by westr015 Architecture Grad School U of M

Topic: Grad School

On Choosing the Right Graduate Program


You know you've found the right graduate program when the material requirements for your first assignment closely match those of a student aged 5.

Posted on 10:51 AM by westr015 Architecture Design Grad School

Topic: Grad School

M.Arch. Year 2

This year is shaping up to be a good one. My courses:

Thermal Design
Lighting and Acustic Design
Architecture in the Enlightenment (with Robert Ferguson, who has a great mind for history)
Studio (with Jennifer Yoos of VJAA)

In the enlightenment course we'll be primarily writing a research paper.

Studio will center around the notion of "interactivity" and how digital tools can help bring interactivity into architecture.

Posted on 10:48 AM by westr015 Grad School

Topic: Grad School

Architecture for Humanity Gets a Wish from Sun Microsystems

Every year at the TED Conference someone is granted a world-changing wish. This year it was Cameron Sinclair of Architecture for Humanity. Sinclair is currently teaching here at the University of Minnesota department of architecture. From the article:

As part of his wish, Sinclair requested a means to allow architects, funders, non-governmental organizations and communities to collaborate on generating and implementing innovative housing solutions globally. Sun answered by offering to provide an online platform that will facilitate collaboration and sharing of designs and will use advanced technology to simulate geographic/seismic, political/cultural and financial ramifications of designs. Sun and Sinclair will gather additional support from the technology, entertainment and design industries represented at the TED conference.

Link to Press Release

Posted on 6:38 PM by westr015 Architecture Computation Grad School Social Software U of M Web Technologies

Topic: Grad School

Next Big Project

We (I and 49 other students) are a few weeks into the second semester of our first year of the Master's of Architecture program here at the U of M. We just finished up a design project in which we studied the planning of the Mayo Woodlands development in Rochester, MN. That project culminated in the design of a house for the development. The results (50 house designs) are on display in the courtyard of Rapson Hall through friday.

The next project, which we just started, involves developing a master plan for the Augsburg College campus here in Minneapolis. The project will run through the end of the semester with the goal of designing blocks of student housing, of which the college is in need of.

Posted on 11:23 AM by westr015 Architecture Grad School

Topic: Grad School

The Activist Architect

A new blog, Activist Architect by four U of M architecture graduate students has started up. It was posted on Archinect recently.

Posted on 11:37 AM by westr015 Architecture Grad School U of M

Topic: Grad School

Catherine Veikos Workshop

Today in studio we're start a workshop by Catherine Veikos, assistant professor at PennDesign (Univeristy of Pennsylvania.) She's a visiting professor here at CALA this semester. Here are some notes from her initial lecture:

  • Perspective is taken for granted with 3d renderings, goes without question.
  • Catherine shows us a series of paintings that display ideas about perspective: a window, a mathematically defined and flattened space.
  • Vermeer: a curtain at the edge of the painting, painting as a window.
  • Alberti: constructione ligitima, a particular mathematical way of constructing perspective illusion.
  • Perspective as a mathematical system evolved into a symbolic system.
  • How do we reclaim perspective for artistic/expressive purposes?
  • High horizon line gives illusion of greater depth of space.
  • Bigger figures appear farther forward, overlap of figures reenforces this.
  • Deeper, brighter colors can also reenforce the perspective illusion. (contrast, saturation)
  • More detail given to objects in front.
  • Different colors have different effects on perception.
  • Digital imaging is basically just manipulating colored light.
  • Considering the movement of light as a way of painting. (Futurists, Pointilists)
  • Many theories of color, many standards for communicating color.
  • James Turrel: painting with colored light.
  • Currently we've moved from a painterly frame of mind to a cinematic frame of mind.

Our workshop/charette will be looking at Op-art paintings and transforming them into a 3 dimensional spaces.

Things to keep in mind when translating a painting into 3d space:

  • How is perspective interpreted and applied?
  • What is the point of view and the meaning of that point of view?
  • Transparency and reflection of materials.
  • How does motion come into play?
  • Always consider what could be done in post-production. Build in 3d modeling application, import into image editor, play, repeat.
  • Document your processes, so you can recreate the effects.

Posted on 4:38 PM by westr015 Grad School

Topic: Grad School

Where did I put that 12" trowel?

Only in architecture school is one asked to consider the broader philosophical implications of using drywall.

Posted on 12:02 PM by westr015 Grad School

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