Unimaginable Architecture

I recently wrote about two groups using 3D printing to build houses. I want to continue on that theme and discuss an architect who wants to use the technology to completely redefine architecture. That architect is Michael Hansmeyer, and he discusses his new approach to architecture in a TED talk. Hansmeyer draws his inspiration from nature, particularly the structure of cells: however, rather than directly imitating natural forms, he wants to mimic the process that creates natural forms. To do this, he uses algorithms and CAD software to digitally “fold” a cube into complex fractal-esque forms that are all but impossible to visualize. 3D printers are then used to assemble the designs layer by layer. Hansmeyer argues that, over the past few millennia, humans have created preconceptions about what forms can be used in architecture, and he wants architects to “free themselves” from their bias towards orthodox forms. Certainly, his own style and process is unorthodox and unique, for it relies on technology only recently developed. Since there is probably nobody who is able to describe the forms Hansmeyer’s algorithms create, here are some images:

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(Photos taken from Hansmeyer’s TED talk)

Obviously, Hansmeyer’s work could have had the potential to turn our conception of architecture completely on its head. The architect would turn from a designer of forms to an “orchestrator of processes”. It’s all an interesting process, but I’m afraid I’m not on board with the idea, and I’m not sure the general public will be. To me, the designs do not look aesthetically pleasing, and, for all the advanced technology that goes into the design, I feel like they look kitsch, like architectural party tricks. The columns that Hansmeyer created using his algorithms wouldn’t look out of place in the set of a corny sci-fi movie. There isn’t a shred of structural honesty, and on a large scale, such designs would be impractical (imagine cleaning all the nooks and crannies) and costly. I can’t think of any cityscape where they wouldn’t stand out like a sore thumb. Finally, I don’t agree with Hansmeyer’s aim to create “unimaginable shapes”. Buildings shouldn’t be so confusing or so abstract. I think great architecture should be able to inspire people, and it’s hard to be inspired by something you can’t quite comprehend.

Hansmeyer seems to be creating a grotesque organic style through his processes. Over a hundred years ago, Antonio Gaudi built in a similar style, using traditional architectural methods rather than software and algorithms. In my opinion, Gaudi’s work is far more impressive and beautiful that Hansmeyer’s, and I think this is because Gaudi created inspired, organized, and well-planned structures. Gaudi had an intelligent mastery of massing, space, and ornament, but Hansmeyer’s algorithms don’t. Great steps in artificial intelligence and computer science must be made before a computer program can create great architecture without plenty of human input.

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Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia- photo from wikipedia, by SBA73

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